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June 02, 2006

James Wolcott Reviews Me

Who's James Wolcott? That's the question that's precisely on no one's lips. That's the name that causes no one's breath to bate, and no one's senses to thrill.

But who is he, anyway, whether it matters or not?, you don't ask yourselves. As you refuse to play along, I'm forced to just go ahead and tell you anyway.

Well, he's pretty much a nobody. Oh, that's not quite true; his name is better known than, say, Dr. Emelius Starkmucus, but not much better known. He's often called "trenchant" and "mordant," and I don't really know what those words mean, but, using the "context clue" of the caricature on his website, I imagine they're just SAT words for "pudgy" and "pillow-bellied."


Basically, he's known for being an asshole in the pages of the free gay-escort-service ad-circular The Village Voice. I'm told that they have occasional articles in between the gay-escort ads, maybe in some sort of effort to avoid interestate pornography laws. Like, you know, if someone tries to prosecute the, um, "newspaper" on the grounds that it seems to be little but advertisments for male prostitutes, they could say, "Oh, no, look: on page 61 we have a review of a Rhino Records compilation of Richard Hell and the Voidoids, and on page 133 we have a digest of Things To Do in Manhattan this week." (Entry #2: "Rediscover the magic of the Holland Tunnel." Entry #8: "Why not hire yourself a male whore?")

Anyway, Wolcott writes some of those bits of filler. He is a "cultural critic," which, I think, means that he pretty much does the "Did you ever notice..." and "Don't you hate it when..." stuff comedians do, except he's not funny. I imagine he just writes the same sort of article over and over. "Print Is Dead," then "Theater Is Dead," then "Art is Dead," etc., always whining like some over-the-hill jackass about how much more vibrant "the scene" used to be in the eighties.

Or something. Again, I don't really know. I never read him. I know nothing about him except what he divulges on his blog. Like, that he has three "ocicats," whatever the fuck they are, and that they're named Jasper, Roland, and Henry.

The only reason I know his name is because it's always on the cover of The Village Voice. Not that I read it; no one does. But sometimes it rains, and you don't have an umbrella, so you grab one of them from the free dispensers and hold it over your head. It's a thick tabloid, so it makes a decent enough umbrella, but then the ink runs and you wind up with the phone number for Dusty's Dungeon printed on your hand.

And that's all the Voice would put on the cover. Wolcott's name. Specifically, his last name. It has this really annoying, pretentious-git faux-edgy habit of just printing a bunch of last names on the cover, the writers writing in that issue, without even telling you what they're writing about. So, like, a cover would say: WOLCOTT p. 32. KOSTIGAN p. 88. McMATHERS p. 201.

DUSTY'S DUNGEON HOT LIVE CHAT LINE. p. 46-62 (special insert!)

Again, not even telling you what these nobodies are writing about.

And they thought, I guess, that those words should have some kind of talismanic effect on a potential reader. Like, seeing "WOLCOTT -- KOSTIGAN -- McMATHERS" is going to make you want to pick up a copy. Except, you know, no one knows who the hell "WOLCOTT -- KOSTIGAN -- McMATHERS" are, except maybe for thirty or forty people (most of them family members, either from the WOLCOTT -- KOSTIGAN -- or McMATHERS clans).

For everyone else, those words are as meaningful and enticing as TILE GROUT -- BANANA FRITTER -- DEER CHIGGERS.

Maybe less so. Offered a choice between WOLCOTT and BANANA FRITTER, well, you know, I do loves my sweets.

So, this pompous jackass presumes to "review" me. Well, he doesn't really review me so much as he reviews this post, which doesn't really contain much that I wrote. See, it's a quote from another blogger, Potfry, which apparently escaped the keen eye of James Wolcott. I mean, yeah, I provided a link, I put the thing in a quote-box, but he thinks I wrote it.

I guess he thinks I link and quote myself. He says it's not funny, but it is. I think his problem is that he's a big animal-lover -- he's got to be, to have three "ocicats," which I imagine is just a nice way of saying "retard-cats" -- and he thinks, it seems, that when Potfry writes about kicking a dog in the balls, he really means it.

It's called "black humor," numb-nuts. But I guess he's just really really offended, because he so loves his ocicats, Jasper, Roland, and Henry.

Or JASPER. ROLAND. HENRY. That's how I think of them. I can't wait to read what they have to say about the Keith Fearing retrospective at the MoMA.

But as WOLCOTT was so kind as to review me (you're not anybody until WOLCOTT acknowledges you, or at least KOSTIGAN or McMATHERS), I thought I'd link a review of a book written by WOLCOTT.

Now, WOLCOTT's been a critic, and a professional writer (ahem), for a long, long time. But WOLCOTT just recently got around to writing that novel that I'm sure he's been telling KOSTIGAN and McMATHERS about since they were undergrads at NYU in the late 1890's (a period sometimes called "The Rise of the Robber Barons," and dominatd by such captains of industry as CARNEGIE -- MORGAN -- WESTINGHOUSE).

So, what did WOLCOTT come up with after all those long, long years of gestation? What did this acid-tongued, hawk-eyed cultural critic produce? Something innovative and challenging and ground-breaking, surely?

No. He produced what is, according to his publisher's own hype-copy, a rewrite of Briget Jones' Diary, except for guys. I guess.

Suppose Bridget Jones had a twin brother? Meet Johnny Downs β€” Half man, half mess.

Wow. He sounds fascinating. A Howard Roarke for the twenty-first century.

Do go one. Please; I'm listening. I'm just resting my eyes. And deliberately letting drool pour out of the corner of my mouth. Just to test its viscosity.

Bartender by day, actor by night, Johnny Downs cheerfully floats through life, living alone with his jukebox and his cat. But he is about to discover that while he's been floating, he's been drifting downstream β€” heading for disaster.

Do I hear an echo of Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom? I think I do!

Blindsided when his dazzler of a girlfriend dumps him like yesterday's news, Johnny is wounded, stunned, and, most of all, clueless. "You're like most men β€” oblivious," says his friend and mysterious confidante Darlene Ryder, a Southern belle with a steel-trap mind and a mouth to match.

A sassy best friend, you say? The sheer literary audacity of the man! He could only be more cutting edge if she were a sassy black best friend.

Her diagnosis: Johnny is doomed to be rejected by every woman he desires as long as he clings to his outmoded bachelor ways. His footloose and fancy-free playing days are over. Now it's time to suit up and play the game of love for keeps. Darlene puts him on a rigorous crash course to rebrand himself as "husband material." But does Darlene really have his best interests at heart? Is it marriage she's steering him toward, or further catastrophe? And who are these catsitters that keep coming into his life?

This is his idea of a novel? Did we really need Bridget Jones' Diary For Dudes?

Look, it's endearing -- I guess -- when a female main character's life is so chaotic and kooky that she just can't get a handle on her zany love-life, even with her crazy-quirky friends.

For a male character-- well, who wants to read about such a jerkoff? Just get it together, asshole. Be a friggin' man.

And-- didn't Nick Hornsby already write this book?

In fact, didn't Nick Hornsby already write this book five or six times by now?

But there's so much more:

At turns witty and poignant, The Catsitters is an adroit comedy of contemporary manners that wickedly renders the hapless foibles of an unmarried man on the canvas of modern urban life. It is also a bulletin from deep behind the lines of the dating scene that bares one of the most closely guarded male secrets: Behind the bluster and bluff of "guy talk," most men are looking for The Right One, too. They just don't know how to look, or where to ask for help; they don't have a Darlene. Men and women alike will wince, laugh, and identify with Wolcott's portrait of what it takes to survive and triumph in the gladiator arena of high-stakes romance. The good news is that you don't have to be ruthless to win. Nice guys can finish first.

Sounds pretty hard-hitting and edgy. No wonder it didn't sell at all. It was just witten sixty years too early. In 2050, they'll be rediscovering this groundbreaking book just as the romantic poets rediscovered Shakespeare's plays.

From the acerbic and sometimes controversial Vanity Fair columnist comes a surprisingly sweet-toned and embracing debut novel about sex, masculinity, and the comedy-drama of everyday life. The Catsitters is a novel even James Wolcott could love.

Apparently it's a novel only WOLCOTT could love, as reviews demonstrate:

It's dispiriting, when reading a book...

Always gotta be jazzed when a review about your book starts off with "dispiriting."

...to find yourself puzzling incessantly over what the author is trying to do. Does Wolcott intend The Catsitters to be psychological realism, written in an amusing tone but with enough intimations of darkness to lend the whole enterprise ballast? If so, then the device of having Johnny's old friend Darlene entirely engineer the revamping of his romantic life via long-distance telephone from Georgia is both too implausible and too flippant. Is The Catsitters instead meant to be a breezy romantic comedy about the absurdities of contemporary dating, told from the point of view of a decent guy yearning for true love? That would explain why the characters are thinly drawn and generic, a common feature in fiction with a demographic agenda. But it doesn't explain why these people are numbingly ordinary rather than comically exaggerated, or why Johnny doesn't, say, get into preposterous scrapes and then only escalate the chaos in trying to extricate himself β€” why, in short, nothing that's actually funny ever seems to happen. 'I don't know how I feel about farce as a genre,' Johnny says at one point, and his creator seems to share this ambivalence....You have to respect a notoriously withering critic for stepping into the ring and offering up his own work to what could well be the same sort of harsh treatment he's dished out to others. That takes daring. It's too bad Wolcott's hero doesn't have some of it.

Daring, indeed. And ill-advised, as it turns out.

But, no problem with that one bad review. After all, it was just in the New York Times Book Review. They're not very influential.

Oh, but wait... here's another pan, a one-line slam from Jewish Mother Book Reviews: "For this shmeckl you gave up a nice career in podiatry?"

Ah, well. You can't please everyone.

So, you weren't meant to be a novelist. Just one childhood dream, dashed like so many pieces of Reeses' peanut-butter cups as you crush them into your quart of Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey and then devour it all in three minutes and then cry yourself to sleep like a schoolgirl.

A pudgy, pillow-bellied schoolgirl who writes bad novels.

But you tried, WOLCOTT. At least you threw your big fat hat into the ring.

And that, at least, puts you one over on KOSTIGAN and McMANUS. And even STARKMUCUS.

Now go get me my juice-box, Juice-Box.

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posted by Ace at 10:06 PM

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