March 7, 2005

For the literary type

I read this article today in the NYT and found it rather interesting. Take a look at why so many novels with 9/11 as a major plot point will be published this year. Also, take note that Nick McDonell, author of best-seller Twelve, will be publishing his 2nd book, at age 21. Way to go Nick! Even better, Jonathan Saffran Foer, the newest sweetheart of contemporary American critics, following directly in the giant footsteps of David Foster Wallace, will be publishing a book with lots of blank pages and illustrations in it. Seems like he's really pushing the envelope; the only problem is, I’m not sure if the envelope can get any bigger. Didn't Pynchon blow the envelope up 40 years ago? Anyway, before I go any further with my skepticism, I better read the book. Having read Foer's first book, I will say that he and Foster Wallace have one very obvious trait in common (as do many postmodern authors); they both use humor as a defense mechanism against their own, personal nihilistic tendencies (the treatise on this follow in the next few years).

Back to ol' McDonell (no pun intended). Let me reiterate how proud I am that a 21-year-old is having such success in the literary world. As a writer myself, I must that if any 21-year-old should be expected to make such leaps and bounds, it should certainly be McDonell, after all, it’s in the kid's blood. His godfather is the President of Grove Press, and his father is a head honcho at Sports Illustrated. McDonell is such an incendiary author that both Joan Didion and Hunter S. Thompson (RIP) have blurbs on the back of his first book, praising his virtuosic take on the lives of New York City's elite. Or is this in fact nepotism at its worst? According to one Amazon reviewer that’s exactly what it may be:

As a college student, I felt embarrassed for my generation when I read this miserable book. There are better writers on every block of Manhattan than Nick McDonell. Absolutely pathetic. Great to know that his godfather published the book, though, and his dad got it promoted.

Joan Didion came to my school a few months ago and gave a talk. At one point, during questions afterward, I asked her point blank why she gave blurbs to books that it seems hard to imagine she could have had any respect for whatsoever. (I didn't mention Twelve by name, but I haven't noticed her name on many other books, and certainly none as wretched as this garbage.) There was a pause and then she sighed and said, "You get trapped into it. Old friends ask, and you don't want to put a sour note in decades of friendship because you wouldn't write a sentence or two."

Joan Didion is old friends with Nick McDonell's father.

I think this reviewer is on to something.


  1. Good call Vardaman. Nick McDonell sucks. I read "Twelve" this summer because Lemuel got a free copy. As someone with no fiction aspirations of my own, I can say from a slightly less "envious" point of view that McDonell is basically a huge poser, pretending to dispise his privelaged, cosmopolitan up-bringing, but secretly loving it and lording it over his readers (not to mention his peers who have the distinct disadvantage of not having sweet ties to the publishing establishment). This kid needs to get over himself.

  2. Well I thought the book was a riveting indictment of our post-Columbine youth culture of disenchantment and nihilism, told at breakneck speed.

  3. Ricky3:38 PM

    Perhaps your distaste for the defensive humour of postmodern (it's not spelled "post-modern" anymore) fiction and your apparent inability to subtly mock this fucking joke of an author are two sides of the same coin. Read: you aren't funny.

  4. BTW, thanks to your mention of DFW and the resultant ad for "David Foster Wallace" on our blog, I am reading his long article "Consider the Lobster" from Gourmet magazine, ultimately about whether boiling lobsters alive is ethical or not, but also about losbters and the culture of lobster consumption at large. This is one of the most edifying experiences of my life, I think.

  5. Ricky4:18 PM

    Also, it's "Shaquille."