I see it is time for another list. Here is a list of one book that really sucked:
1. The Dying Animal, by Philip Roth
I realize Roth is a literary lion, a giant – a great big, giant, novel-writing lion. Who, moreover could pass on at any time, and then how will I feel? But holy crap, that was one really bad book. So here is my extremely learned review in brief:
This book is really, really, really, really, really, really, really bad.
For those of you looking for a more in-depth analysis, let’s consider the story-line:
David Kepesh, aging professor (and mouthpiece for Philip Roth’s philosophical platitudes) gets involved with the beautiful graduate student Consuela (yes, that is really her name), who has fantastic, amazing breasts, and also, possibly, a personality of some sort.
For a while they have a torrid affair. But in time, ample-breasted Consuela drifts away from Kierkegaard-quoting Kepesh, and he is cast into a depression full of wistful and long-winded musings about Western Civilization. A woman closer to his own age, a former lover, throws herself at him. She too perhaps has a personality of some sort. He disregards her, wants only the exotic beauty Consuela (yes, that is still really her name), and her perfect bulls-eye bosom.
Now here’s the “twist”. Guess what form of cancer befalls the mysterious, yet well-endowed Consuela? Wait for it. Yup! Breast cancer! Facing a mastectomy, she returns to Professor Dickwad, and asks him to photograph her breasts before her mastectomy. Do you get it? Her breasts were perfect, museum-quality treasures and now…like, WOW! Do you see the incredible irony of it all???
That’s it! There’s your plot! That’s all she wrote. Or rather he. Seriously, if anyone but Philip Roth had brought this story-line to a publisher, would it not have been rejected out of hand, returned with a curt, “Thank you for your submission”?
There is not a single sentence in this book that is beautifully crafted, poetic, or particularly insightful. There is effectively zero character development. The plot is nothing short of comically sophomoric. But we are living in the era of literary self-delusion. Crap is celebrated as genius and nobody is willing to say the obvious: “This book SUCKS!”
Let’s explore what the sycophantish sheep, I mean book critics, had to say:
“[A] disturbing masterpiece” – The New York Review of Books
Seriously, the reviewer could not possibly have read past page 5. This book is not a masterpiece. It is not great. It is not good. It is not fair. It is trivial idiocy.
“No one can come close to Roth’s…breadth of moral imperative.” –The Boston Globe
Actually, it’s hard to argue with this, since, “breadth of moral imperative” does not, technically speaking, have any meaning. It sounds like it’s a probably a good thing. “That’s some broad moral imperative ya got there!” It seems like it would be a compliment of some sort. But who really knows?
The New York Times Book Review went into its own disquisition about the male psyche and feminism and lots of other important stuff. I’m not sure what it actually thought of the book, as it seemed it was mainly trying to avoid having an actual opinion.
Now, I have read Roth novels I have enjoyed. “Portnoy” and “American Pastoral,” were the two best of the ones I’ve read. Roth was once capable of writing a novel, and I suspect he is simply the victim of way too much praise, to the point where he believes, much like the late-night, stoned undergraduate, that any crap he puts down on paper must be revelatory genius. Unlike the undergraduate however, he does not wake up in the morning and realize that what he thought was the next, “King Lear,” is actually a lot of meaningless nonsense.
A part of me is more frustrated with the critics than with the novel. Where is our collective judgement, or rather, out independent judgement? Can anybody think for themselves? (*Answer elsewhere on page)