Here are 50 writers who I think deserve the MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant more than Jonathan Lethem:
1. Nicholson Baker
2. Rick Moody
3. Paul Auster
4. Ann Beattie
5. John Irving
6. Lorrie Moore
7. Don DeLillo
8. Kurt Vonnegut
9. Joyce Carol Oates
10. Dennis Cooper
11. Miguel Algarin
12. William Vollman
13. Lynne Sharon Schwartz
14. Chuck Pahlaniuk
15. Herschel Silverman
16. Edward Albee
17. Mary Gaitskill
18. Stephen Millhauser
19. Augusten Burroughs
20. Bob Holman
21. Gary Snyder
22. Caleb Carr
23. Vikram Seth
24. Jane Smiley
25. Tom Robbins
26. Louise Erdrich
27. Douglas Coupland
28. Alice Hoffman
29. Alice McDermott
30., 31., 32. three more damn writers named Alice
33. Jonathan Franzen
34. Robert Pirsig
35. Art Spiegelman
36. Cynthia Ozick
37. William Kotzwinkle
38. Alice Walker
39. Robert Bly
40. William Gibson
41. Andre Dubus
42. William Kennedy
43. Li Young-Lee
44. Richard P. Brickner
45. Jim Harrison
46. Joan Didion
47. E. L. Doctorow
48. Tom Wolfe
49. Denis Johnson
50. Robert Coover
I could go on and on. Stephen King. Jadakiss. Lemony Snicket. Maud Newton. Bret Easton Ellis.
Look, I don't want to begrudge Jonathan Lethem his moment in the sun. But I find his stuff oblique and obvious. A narrator with Tourette's Syndrome? Gimme a break. Mark Haddon pulled something like this off in a better postmodern mystery, but Motherless Brooklyn didn't deliver the strong vision or conviction that would put the act over. I say there's just a little bit of Forrest Gump in Lionel Essrog.
I also don't get Lethem's website. "The Ego is happy in the glove compartment." Thanks, Jonathan. Did I dial jennyholzer.org by accident? What does it all mean? Can I buy a hot dog here?
I guess I'll have to pick up another Lethem book or two before I make a final call on this guy. But first impressions mean a lot, and so far I'm not seeing a genius.
Let me know if you think I missed any major names on the list.
One Shot by Lee Child
Lee Child, bless his English heart, writes one of the best hard-boiled-loner solving-problems and moving-along-owning-nothing-but-what-he-can-carry mystery series around. A sniper has killed six people. The sniper has done this before and ex-MP Jack Reacher knows it and the sniper knows Jack knows it. So why is the sniper asking for Jack's help? If you like this one, try The Enemy, a prequel to the series that explains a bit about how Jack got to be who he is.
Bitch Creek by William Tapply
This author was all set to go on my "must check out his other books" list. But. Stoney Calhoun, the main character, has amnesia. Got out of the hospital five years ago after being hit by lightning (or was he?), remembering nothing but fleeting, hallucinatory images of his former life. Feels compelled to move to a small town in Maine. Helps out at a fishing guide business. Fellow guide gets killed. Is it related to Stoney's past or just a coincidence? Spoiler: although he solves the mystery with skills from his forgotten life, the mystery is not linked to his past. I'm mellowing on this, but when I first finished the book, I was quite annoyed that the author set up this great background story and didn't follow through. There have been murmurings since that this is the first book in a new series which means it'll probably be years before we find out who Stoney was and why a mysterious man shows up every few months to check up on him and see if he's remembered anything. Argh.
Comeback by Richard Stark
Parker is the anti-hero of anti-heroes, a sociopath who will get the crime done. After a twenty-three year absence, Richard Stark (a.k.a. Donald Westlake) resurrected Parker in Comeback in 1997. Parker and companions set out to steal money from a dishonest televangelist. Something goes horribly wrong, as it usually does and Parker needs all his wits and his willingness to do whatever and whoever he needs to get the job done. The newer Parker books are a bit more mellow - he doesn't kill everyone, just whoever gets in his way. If you want to spend more time with a cold-blooded, amoral thief (and who doesn't?) go back and start at the beginning with The Hunter or continue on with Backflash.
Confess your escapist reading picks. What do you read when you're not feeling very literary or serious?
Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, the British author of cultishly-popular humorous novels, short stories and plays (Jeeves and Bertie Wooster are probably his most famous fictional creations, and he worked on musicals with composers like George Gershwin and Jerome Kern) became unexpectedly controversial at the height of his popularity.
He was residing in France in 1940 when the Nazis over-ran the country. As a British citizen, he was interred as an enemy alien. The Nazis knew they had a prize catch, however, for Wodehouse was famous throughout the world, and they were anxious to use him for propaganda purposes. They transferred him to a prison in Berlin and made him an offer: he would be treated decently if he would just make a few pro-German radio broadcasts. He agreed to do so -- to save his skin, he would later say -- he would also claim that they were harmless broadcasts in which he simply joked about his imprisonment.
However, I can't approve of a short essay in which he tells us he is tired of rock music. He unwittingly reveals the real problem when he cites Sonic Youth and Nels Cline as the kind of music he approves of. Forget that critically-acclaimed college-radio fancy stuff, which was never very exciting in the first place. I took my son to see System of a Down last month, and based on that evidence alone: yes, there are still excellent new bands doing excellent new things. Rick just has to stop trying to be all cool.
Because he's a generally well-respected writer, I've given T. Coraghassen Boyle a few chances over the years. I read Road To Wellville, about some wacky cereal-makers in turn-of-the-century Battle Creek. I liked the setting of the book, but the plot was wooden and artifical, and the story finally clip-clopped to a stop without an epiphany.
I also caught Boyle at a Central Park Summerstage reading a long while ago, in the late 80's or early 90's. He read his Springsteen-inspired story "Greasy Lake", which was pretty much the story that made him famous. I thought it was okay, but Springsteen told it better.
Are there any T. C. Boyle advocates out there, and is anybody reading his new book? I'm curious what others think of this author.
Bret Easton Ellis's Lunar Park is more fun than any novel he's written before, and it's easy to see why it's become one of the hot books of the summer.
A satirical pseudo-autobiography as well as a creepy paranoid thriller, the book glides like a fast dream and keeps you in suspense, even though you won't care a bit about the well-being of any of its endangered characters. Everything still all adds up to less than zero in Ellis's world, and that's the way it's supposed to be.
The book kicks off with a hilarious summary of Ellis's writing career and his emergence as one of three super-hot lit-darlings of the 1980's (along with Tama Janowitz and Jay McInerney). He's bitter and funny as he looks back on all the parties he attended and all the celebrities he met, revealing that he remains just as callow, just as drug-dependent, and just as unenlightened now as he was then. But he recently got married, and trying to be a good stepdad to his movie star wife's 11 year old son and 6 year old daughter. This only seems to create a dark undercurrent of parent-anxiety, and images of Ellis's own dead father start to haunt him.
The book is packed with literary references that refuse to take themselves seriously. The Ellis family lives on Elsinore Lane and shops at the Ophelia Mall, hints so hokey that Ellis can only be inviting reviewers to sneer at them. The punchy sentences Ellis uses to advance the creepy underplot recall Chuck Pahlaniuk, while the use of the author as a character in an implausible criminal plot indicates that Ellis has been reading Paul Auster (the title of the book also echoes Auster's Moon Palace). Meanwhile, the family dynamic, complete with clueless neighbors and sweet corrupted children in an affluent college town, recalls Don DeLillo's White Noise.
Back in the 1980's, when the Ellis/McInerney/Janowitz trio ruled the party photo pages in Vanity Fair and Spy Magazine, nobody ever thought Ellis would emerge as the only serious writer of the three. In fact he seemed the slightest of the trio, and the least original. But McInerney and Janowitz, for all their good haircuts, have clearly stopped experimenting with either form or content. McInerney has tried to position himself as the F. Scott Fitzgerald of his age (supposedly we'll all appreciate Brightness Falls twenty years after he's dead?) while Janowitz has simply stuck to familiar grooves. Ellis, on the other hand, has made a career of twisting his rich party boy persona into one odd tortuous new shape after another, and in 2005 he seems to belong more to this decade than to that one. We don't exactly love his books, because that's not what the Ellis experience is about, but it sure is easy to enjoy this one.
I have read this damn thing many times in sweet escapist joy but this second time in a month I re-read last week, well, it was different the last time around. Across the miles and moils of years, this time the second rush of ending summer seemed more painful than before. I wept. Dean was a rat, and Sal retaliated, and I bummed.
This is not one of my favorite movies in the world.
I know I'm about two years late to the trashing party for this movie, so I don't think I should bother going into much detail. The fact that this film is a disappointment is not news. I'm not sure if I have any original complaints to add, but maybe I can at least vent a little of my personal fury by making a couple of points about this film:
First, the performances were as bad as everybody told me they would be. Nicole Kidman and Jude Law didn't come across as actors so much as dress-up dolls reading lines from a script. Renee Zellweiger managed to have some fun with the role of Ruby, but beyond that every performer was stiff and artificial. I was particularly disappointed in Donald Sutherland, who was supposed to be playing Ada's father, Monroe, but was instead apparently playing Martin Sheen playing Robert E. Lee playing Monroe. Ever hear of method acting, Sutherland? What the hell is your motivation?