A little more on The Marriage Plot

While looking at post-read reviews of The Marriage Plot, I came upon this sour review by William Deresiewicz for The New York Times. One paragraph that made my blood boil:

You almost can’t believe the same person is responsible for “Middlesex.” Clanking prose, clunky exposition, transparent devices, telegraphed moves — the novel is “Midnight’s Children” without the magic, the intellect or the grand historical occasion, a hash of narrative contrivances with very little on its mind. In making these judgments, of course — the novel was a huge best seller and a Pulitzer Prize winner, to boot — I am joining a minority of perhaps no more than one. But I found the whole thing utterly unpersuasive. Take away its trendy theme and dollops of ethnic schmaltz (it could have been called “My Big Fat Greek Novel”), and “Middlesex” scarcely contains a single real character or genuine emotion.

Ok, so you don’t like the book as much as I did. Fine. But nothing makes me so angry as the (small-c) conservative suspicion that any writers with novels that deal with characters other than WASP heterosexuals are cheating somehow. Why the fuck should I take anything away? Greek families and the intersexual experience are what the book is about. Why is that illegitimate? Plus, since it’s theme is so “trendy,” please point to the other Pulitzer prize winning books that deal with intersexuality.
I could only imagine that Deresiewicz is an Armond White-level troll, and that seems to be true. He wrote this skin tinglingly gross passage about Zadie Smith, while panning of On Beauty:

Her debut novel, White Teeth, was received with a frenzy of adulation: Showered with awards and translated into more than twenty languages, it vaulted its author into the forefront of young British novelists. Smith’s personal story didn’t hurt: The 24-year-old daughter of an English father and Jamaican mother, she’d signed the book deal while still at Cambridge. Her looks didn’t hurt, either: Smith takes a great publicity shot. In fact, her ascent was part of the late-’90s fad for beautiful young women novelists with Commonwealth roots (itself a subset of the post-cold war globalization frenzy).

Gross. I suppose one of the penalties for writing a book is that creeps like Deresiewicz get to read it.

2 responses to “A little more on The Marriage Plot”

  1. William Deresiewicz is a reviewer for the National Review & The New York Times, and I’m just a guy on the internet. Regardless, I’m not sure if there is a way to be both constructive and fundamentally disagree with his conception of literature. He’s shown in this review, and in other pieces of writing online, that he considers literature from non-Western countries, or from minority voices, a distraction from the real project of literature.
    Jeffrey Eugenides, in Middlesex is writing about his family. Can there be anything more disrespectful than dismissing it as “ethnic schmaltz”?
    Whether or not you like her books or not, Zadie Smith is a hyper-intelligent and hyper-observant student and producer of English literature. And he de-legitimizes her by pointing to her looks and labeling her a fad.
    Sometimes there’s nothing left to construct.

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