Kakutani Shakes and Spears Rosenbaum


The clock is ticking on my bet that the New York Times would run a Michiko Kakutani chop-job on Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. William Kennedy’s positive review of that novel appeared on Sunday, October 8th. The next day, I speculated that Kakutani’s inevitable skewering would appear within two weeks.

Well, there is only four days left in that window of time, so I might be losing my bet. However, in the meantime, Kakutani doesn’t want us to miss her. Instead, she spears Ron Rosenbaum’s The Shakespeare Wars: Clashing Scholars, Public Fiascoes, Palace Coups.

A famous writer once complained to me that “the problem with reviewers at the big places, like The Times, is that they’ve been declawed. They won’t come right out and say what they feel. You read these massive reviews, but you end up not knowing whether the critic actually like the book or not.”

Not the case here. Not at all. Check out this passage from the review. “Mr. Rosenbaum has done none of these things,” Kakutani writes. “Instead, he has written a convoluted, self-indulgent and nearly impenetrable tome that reads like the desultory jottings of a lapsed graduate student in English (which the author once was). Though there are moments when he communicates his passion for Shakespeare, they are scattered, forlornly, amid pages and pages of arcane discussions about textual scholarship and ‘iambic fundamentalism,’ windy and inconclusive debates about what is truly Shakespearean and blow-by-blow accounts of feuds between rival scholars that cannot possibly be of any interest (at least as rendered by Mr. Rosenbaum) to the lay reader.”

She continues to pummel the author throughout the review. Comment such as, “None of this is done in an organized fashion; instead it seems random and often highly subjective in the extreme,” and “these discussions are meandering, unfocused exercises; they serve up snippets of insight into Shakespeare’s work only to trickle off into irrelevance” appear throughout the piece.

A good ‘ole fashioned ass-whupping, as my old man would say.

But damn intriguing enough to almost make me want to buy the book, perverse reader that I am.

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