Friday, September 28, 2007

Let it cook just a little longer...

Bukiet skewers some of the more popular books of late for their overwrought magnanimity, taking aim at Alice Sebold, Dave Eggers, Jonathan Safran Foer, et al. I mostly agree with his conclusions, but the essay does occasionally slip into fish-in-a-barrel potshots -- I don't think any of these books were engineered to be overly twee; they just rub some people, like Bukiet, the wrong way. Still, it's a worthy, albeit lengthy read.
To achieve this miracle, certain writers produce Brooklyn Books of Wonder. Take mawkish self-indulgence, add a heavy dollop of creamy nostalgia, season with magic realism, stir in a complacency of faith, and you’ve got wondrousness. The only thing that’s more wondrous than the BBoW narratives themselves is the vanity of the authors who deliver their epistles from Fort Greene with mock-naïve astonishment, as if saying: “I can’t really believe I’m writing this. And it’s such an honor that you’re reading it.” Actually, they’re as vain and mercenary as anyone else, but they mask these less endearing traits under the smiley façade of an illusory Eden they’ve recreated in the low-rise borough across the water from corrupt Manhattan.

...Youth and orphanhood function prominently in BBoWs. In Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Foer’s Oskar Schell is a precocious nine-year-old, maybe a prodigy, whose father died in the World Trade Center. In The History of Love, Krauss gives us teenaged Alma Singer, who aims to make her widowed mother a match. Even those books that don’t actually kill off the folks, such as Goldberg’s Bee Season, are chronicles of life with flaky, emotionally absent parents who might as well be physically removed from the lives of their quivering offspring. And Dave Eggers’s A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius begins with the real-life death of the author’s mother and father from different cancers a few months apart. All of these books instantly trigger the “Awww” reflex of narcissistic empathy that makes readers, adoring the proximate cause of their own sensitivity, buy them by the truckload.

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