Thursday, December 06, 2012

Heller on Rushdie

Scanning the literary horizon for the "hatchet job of the year," Stephen Moss has pre-awarded the prize to  Zoë Heller for her savaging of Salman Rushdie's palace of self-regard, Joseph Anton--her review, that is, published in The New York Review of Books.

I wouldn't be so sure she'll win.  The savaging is good fun, certainly, and rarely has there been a target so richly deserving.  But the tone is austere and severe, not nearly so rollicking as  Pete Wells takedown of Guy Fieri's new restaurant.  Here, for example, is Wells on Fieri:
How did nachos, one of the hardest dishes in the American canon to mess up, turn out so deeply unlovable? Why augment tortilla chips with fried lasagna noodles that taste like nothing except oil? Why not bury those chips under a properly hot and filling layer of melted cheese and jalapeños instead of dribbling them with thin needles of pepperoni and cold gray clots of ground turkey? 
And Heller on Rushdie:
A man living under threat of death for nine years is not to be blamed for occasionally characterizing his plight in grandiloquent terms. But one would hope that when recollecting his emotions in freedom and safety, he might bring some ironic detachment to bear on his own bombast. Hindsight, alas, has had no sobering effect on Rushdie’s magisterial amour propre. An unembarrassed sense of what he is owed as an embattled, literary immortal-in-waiting pervades his book.
 I mean face it, the latter has a kind of   majesty about it but it's not the kind of punishment that is going to score the victim a moment on Leno (question for eager UB intern--has Rushdie ever been on Leno?  I suppose so, but a desultory search does not confirm it).

Meanwhile, say what you like about Heller's handiwork, the NYRB cannot have been surprised.  Best I can tell, Heller has written only one other review for the journal; it was the piece last fall   dismssing Naomi Wolf's Vagina as " a shoddy piece of work, full of childlike generalizations and dreary, feminist auto-think." Heller is also the lady who said of her own work   “I don’t write books for people to be friends with the characters."  She adds:  “if you want to find friends, go to a cocktail party.” Fine, but if she and Salman Rushdie are there at the same time, I dearly hope I can be on hand to observe.

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