Prose Toad Literary Blog

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Shirley Hazzard, Nice Lady, Bad Book

Shirley Hazzard won The National Book Award for this her second novel, The Great Fire. Thus, the state of The Novel has come down to this: a modest writer of a certain age with moderate narrative skills, a nice person, is the best we have. Gad, didn’t anybody else think that a stuffed-shirt, 33 year-old should keep his perverted hands off a 17 year-old Helen. In addition, don’t readers think that adolescent Helen a bit learned for her age? In fact she’s as learned as Shirley Hazzard. Moreover, didn’t any reviewers wonder why Peter is just thrown in there half way through the novel? As other critics noted, he is a wimpier version of Leith and he seems unnecessary to the story.

Sure, love stories hold readers when lovers separate, but I still have no idea why Leith wouldn’t want that nice nurse. She’d be much better in bed and just as loyal. Furthermore, Helen’s family is bizarre; Driscol is a caricature of provincials, not believable at all. In fact, everyone that lives in Australia or New Zealand seems to read dusty mediocre books all day and study French. That is bad for tourism.

Novels used to attempt the Big Idea. Does anyone know what Hazzard with all her pretentious prose is getting at? War is bad, really? Love is difficult during war? Yeah, we’ve had 10,000 books about the same subject, so what’s new here? Is there an anti-bomb theme? No, she just passes by Hiroshima with a few hackneyed notions. Again, Shirley clearly is a nice woman and she sells many books, but she’s basically one of the mediocre.

Sunday, February 19, 2006


With the cascading accusations swirling around James Frey’s “A Million Little Pieces”, I thought I’d drop in my two cents from dreary little Oklahoma. As writers know, artistic license must be a part of any endeavor of a work of art. Lies must occur because the mundaneness of real life is just not that exciting.

With a memoir, at least for me, the story becomes secondary. With this type of piece, especially with the drinking and pills and how they were brought down like a hammer in the amounts of consumption, Frey was doing something extraordinary. For this I’d like you to consider Hemingway. While he is considered a great writer in academia and in literary history, I find that his stories are at best average. And while I may offend a lot of people that genuflect at his altar, his stories are not what we fell in love with. He was a rugged author that for his time, lived a life, all true or not that most men wished they had the courage to live.

Frey in modern day was and is trying to build a literary legend of himself, though the rehab and redemption makes me take some of this back. Although “On the Road” by Kerouac was a fictional piece, his received legendary position in the literary hierarchy for his way of life. Most believed he’d lived all of it, though those who knew him said pool hall scenes with Neal Cassidy were just that, shooting pool and drinking beer.

Jack London never led huskies into a snowy wilderness. He would sit in bars in the Yukon and listen to the others that lived it every day. But London, as we picture him, is to be extraordinary, a testosterone driven male, the throwback to the hard driven, drunk, liquored up author that we all think he was. And you can’t fault Frey for wanting some of this.

I honestly don’t care if he lied. It’s a damn good book. I know he created a lot of envious energy in New York among the literary elites, which is probably the source of the flogging he’s receiving now. But those cold, concrete, sedate WASP’s needed a fire under them. A good purge of their staunch encampments. I think most of the criticism comes from “why didn’t I think of writing that?” mentality. And then the small fame or infamy (pick your poison) that he enjoys just set his jealous critics over the edge.

Frey can’t be faulted, he’s human, which is all we can expect. Fiction, memoir, whatever, everything that is written is painted with the fine line of subjectivity. In laymen’s terms, no one wants to read boring shit. The world is full of boring books written by boring authors that have received accolades from well-connected peers. It was time for a man like Frey to set the house on fire.

And the Oprah viewers just need to grow up into adults. Shocked and dumbfounded at such lies, I wonder what type of Pleasantville town they live in. No, children need not apply. At least in the real world or in this instance the naked ambition of an author.

Leave Frey alone, he’s only trying to build a myth. Which is secretly how any writer worth his weight would like to be remembered.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Delusions of Intellectuals

Why do intellectuals, important establishment (everyone in the arts has deluded themselves that they are not of the establishment, ha ha) artists, go off the deep end for extreme solutions, Fascism or Socialism? Christopher Hitchens, a rather complex man of the Left that supports the Bush and Blair initiatives in the Moslem world, writes a review of Robert Conquest's book:

Times On LineRobert Conquest's realities and delusions Christopher HitchensRobert Conquest THE DRAGONS OF EXPECTATION Reality and delusion in the course of history256pp. Duckworth. £18.0 7156 3426 7

"...he points out that many of those who hailed the atrocities of September 11, 2001, were leaders and spokesmen of the hard-line racist Right in the United States and Europe: nihilistic demagogues who thought that any attack on “globalization” (often itself a euphemism for “Jewish world government”) was better than none. Who has not met a cretinized Leftist spouting similar windy militant trash?"

"...The sheer crudeness and coarseness of Stalinist theory and practice still have the power to stun the mind. So does the amazing gullibility of so many “intellectuals”. In a series of sketches of the credulous, from Simone de Beauvoir to John Kenneth Galbraith, he is careful to make a distinction between those who rather relished the “excesses” of the Soviet “experiment” and those who looked for humane or longer-term excuses...."

To this day, whether Hollywood or Paris Intellectuals, it is always siding against the best interests of freedom and democracy. Back in the 50's it was the Rosenberg's innocence that activated the Stalin apologists. To bad the evidence is overwhelming that these two immigrants sold their souls for a false god. But so it goes for the intellectual class of any age.