So I lost my bet on when Michiko Kakutani’s trashing of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road would appear. Still no word on road tripping from the critic.
Now we know how she’s been spending her time. Instead of sharpening her claws for McCarthy, it’s another inevitable skewering of a Knopf novel. This time, Kakutani reviews Richard Ford’s The Lay of the Land.
In all fairness, it’s not an entirely negative gutting. Kakutani does praise Ford’s “ability to capture the nubby, variegated texture of ordinary life; his unerring ear for how ordinary people talk; his talent for conjuring up subsidiary characters with a handful of brilliant brushstrokes,” and points out that “there are some wonderful, deeply moving passages in The Lay of the Land that evoke what it is like to be a middle-aged, middle-class man at the turn of the millennium.”
But those compliments are tempered by assertions that the book is “a padded, static production, far more overstuffed with unnecessary asides and digressions than its predecessors,” discussions of plot twists that are “never made remotely plausible, but instead strikes the reader as a narrative contrivance engineered to allow Frank to wallow in self-doubt and self-pity, and spend more time in a bar, getting smashed,” and the belief that the good parts are “buried beneath pages and pages of self-indulgent self-analysis and random ruminations about real estate in New Jersey — not the makings of a fitting follow-up to The Sportswriter and Independence Day, only the stale ingredients of an unnecessary and by-the-numbers sequel.”
I’m running behind on my To Be Read pile and haven’t tackled the novel yet. So I can’t argue with Kakutani on these criticisms. But here’s what I want know…
What, exactly, did Knopf ever do to Kakutani? Does she like any Knopf novel? I knew a long-running feud, in classic Kentucky style, that started when one of my idiotic high school classmates decided it would be funny to dye his enemy’s dog green.
Is that what happened here? Did a bunch of ambitious entry-level publicists kidnap Kakutani’s cat and hold it for ransom? Maybe a few copy editors broke into her office and stole the Strunk and White, surely the literary equivalent of sports teams stealing rival mascots. I know folks in NYC don’t usually drive cars, so sugar in her gas tank probably didn’t happen, but prank calls in the days prior to caller ID are a definite possibility.
Maybe some day, an enterprising blogger, will discover the genesis of the conflict.