Saturday, September 01, 2007

Jim Lewis is a Hack

I don't know anything about how the New York Times chooses their book reviewers. I suspect that they must have some kind of system, because randomly choosing people couldn't possibly result in the kind ineptness they consistently display.

Take for example Jim Lewis. In today's edition, he reviews Denis Johnson's somewhat anticipated new novel. I say "somewhat" because everything Johnson has written since Jesus's Son has been disappointing to greater or lesser degrees, and many of us who love that collection have nearly given up on him. I haven't read Tree of Smoke yet, but this over-the-top piece of hack reviewing doesn't make me want to.

Take for example this little gem of a comparison by Lewis. Discussing Johnson's typical characters, he notes "But unlike most books about the dispossessed, they’re original (how strange it feels to use that word these days, but it fits), and what’s more, deliriously beautiful — ravishing, painful; as desolate as Dostoyevsky, as passionate and terrifying as Edgar Allan Poe." That sentence tells you all you need to know about Jim Lewis's capabilities as a reader. First of all, comparing Johnson to Dostoyevsky is gratuitous, to say the least, but worse is the fact that his comparison equates one of the greatest novelists of all time with the author of "The Raven." Poe's stories are good for frightening children (and NYT book reviewers), but they are not remotely in the league of the big D. Anything else this reviewer says is automatically discredited after this statement.

His review has other gems, including his announcement that "I spent a long time reading “Tree of Smoke,” and as I neared the end I found myself wishing it were longer."

Such dazzling prose! What wit! What insight!

There is no point in reading this review unless, like me, you take a perverse pleasure in the writers for "America's newspaper" sucking so badly. We expect this kind of palaver in the toothless world of poetry reviews. Apparently, fiction suffers a similar malady.


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