A reader writes:
I have read The Godfather. Once. While I agree with some of Mr. Ferraro’s points on the substance of the story, it is the writing that should instantly disqualify it from being anyone’s candidate for “greatest American novel.” Sloppy, juvenile, repetitive, rambling, indulgent, oblivious to the ghosts of Shakespeare and Proust face-palming their way through every page. I boggled at the number of times Mario Puzo went out of his way to describe the unclenching anal sphincter of a mobster in the throes of death, like it was his favorite bit of trivia (I feel for his party guests). And not even the film adaptation – a classic, indeed – could make any damn sense of what Michael was up to during his year in Sicily. This trash makes Stephanie Meyer’s oeuvre seem downright tolerable. If we’re going to nominate it for anything, how about the next eight or nine Poseur Awards?
Another piles on:
I found Prof. Ferraro’s pick LUDICROUS. Aesthetically speaking, The Godfather is a disaster. Terrible prose, rioting metaphors, ham-fisted plotting. It’s my go-to example of a terrible book that made a wonderful movie. Here’s a typical passage:
Luca Brasi was indeed a man to frighten the devil in hell himself. Short, squat, massive-skulled, his presence sent out alarm bells of danger. His face was stamped into a mask of fury. The eyes were brown but with none of the warmth of that color, more a deadly tan. The mouth was not so much cruel as lifeless; thin, rubbery and the color of veal.
There’s more where that came from – so much more. I feel that either Prof. Ferraro was deliberately provocative, or has somehow confused the book and the movie. He offered this as something to sit next to Lolita, for God’s sake!
By happy coincidence, I picked up the novel and read it a couple of months ago. I love the movies (I and II). I can’t pass one up when I’m flipping channels. But the book is really awful. Coppola took the good parts, transcribed them literally, and made them much better with that fabulous cast and magnificent ambience. But the stuff that didn’t make his script (subplots about Johnny Fontaine’s drunken Dino-like sidekick and the size of Sonny’s girlfriend’s vagina) are preposterous and wretchedly written.
I’m glad Mario Puzo developed the myth, but even more glad that Francis Coppola turned it into something magic.
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