- Slim pickings today — maybe everyone is saving room for tomorrow's feasts. Fortunately, Rachel Donadio of the New York Times gets down and dirty with a look at literary feuds past and present.
At their best, literary feuds show something at stake beyond personal vanity. At their worst, feuders can become like so many gorillas, pounding on their chests and marking their territory in the literary jungle.
Literary feuding generally seems to be a men's sport — with the notable exception of Mary McCarthy and Lillian Hellman, whose longstanding feud ended only with Hellman's death; interviewed on The Dick Cavett Show in the late '70s, McCarthy said of Hellman that "every word she says is a lie, including 'and' and 'the.'"
Oooh... SMACKDOWN!! Match to McCarthy!
This fall, a feudlet broke out when Salman Rushdie...spoke out against John Updike, who had panned his latest novel, Shalimar the Clown, in The New Yorker. "Why, oh why, did Salman Rushdie...call one of his major characters Maxmilian Ophuls?"...Updike's latest novel, Terrorist, was "beyond awful," Rushdie [said]. "He should stay in his parochial neighborhood and write about wife-swapping, because it’s what he can do."
Lots of slapping and hair-pulling, no body blows — it's a draw!
In 2002, the novelist Colson Whitehead panned Richard Ford's short-story collection A Multitude of Sins in these pages....[Whitehead wrote:] "A man in a wheelchair cannot just be a man in a wheelchair; he must be a vehicle to help a lame metaphor get around."...Two years later, at a party in Manhattan, Ford walked up to Whitehead — and spat.
Hiss, mrow!! Whitehead let Ford spit on him and didn't even take a swing? Loooo-sah! Match goes to Ford.
One of the last substantive public literary feuds in America — one with real stakes — you need to go back nearly a decade, when Tom Wolfe retaliated against three leading writers who had criticized his best-selling 1998 novel, A Man in Full. In The New Yorker, Updike had pooh-poohed the book as "entertainment." On Canadian television, John Irving had vented that Wolfe "doesn't write novels — he writes journalistic hyperbole." And in The New York Review of Books, [Norman] Mailer had written: "At certain points, reading the work can even be said to resemble the act of making love to a 300-pound woman. Once she gets on top, it's over. Fall in love, or be asphyxiated."
In an essay called "My Three Stooges," Wolfe likened his critics to Larry, Curly and Moe, dismissing their own most recent books as unreadable. "They were shaken. It was as simple as that," Wolfe wrote.
BOOYAH!! Now, THAT'S a fight! They all win... and they all lose!
Whoa, I'm exhausted. Someone turn off that Mortal Kombat techno music, will you? My ears are bleeding...
- The only unproduced feature-length screenplay William Faulkner ever finished has been unearthed. And guess what? It's a vampire movie! And it's going to be filmed!
Faulkner apparently spun out a vampire saga set in an anonymous Eastern European location. [Producer Lee] Caplin plans to relocate the story to the Deep South and has a high-end computer-graphics firm on the hook to dress it up with modern effects.
The timing of this story is odd for me, as I just watched the excellent Barton Fink again a week ago, which contains a brilliant performance by John Mahoney as an alcoholic novelist-turned-Hollywood-hack based on poor Faulkner.
- If you missed the grand opening of Powell's new Beaverton store, you can read a recap and check out some pictures here.
- Charles J. Shields, author of the Harper Lee bio Mockingbird, has started working on the first authorized biography of Kurt Vonnegut. He writes us:
I'd like to hear from any of your readers about their experiences with Vonnegut, either personally or with his novels.
Vonnegut fans, email Charles at Cjs1994@earthlink.net or call him at (434) 985-9063. Tell him Brockman sent you! Not that it will matter... but tell him anyway so I can feel important.
- Teresa DiFalco writes:
My friend Mark at Fortune's Ankle did a good sendup of the OJ debacle, hope it's not too late, i.e., so over.
I'm sure enough outraged people are still ready to laugh at O.J.'s expense. Click here to check out the forthcoming bestseller How I Might Have Caused the Holocaust by Adolf Hitler.
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Brockman is the head writer for the daily Book News posts on the Powells.com blog. In his free time he's hard at work on his fictional memoir, which changes titles daily.
The views and commentary posted by Brockman are entirely his own, and are not representative of the whole of Powell's Books, its employees, or any sane human being.
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