I was checking out The Millions’ Year in Reading again this morning and came across the entry of one William Giraldi. Giraldi is a critic I’ve run into a few times before. He once wrote a weirdly angry review of two books by an acquaintance of mine. This got him pilloried all over the internet. It was really more of a reap-what-you-sow moment than an outrage moment. I think if you write something angry, you should probably be prepared for people to respond in kind.
What I am about to describe is not something angry he wrote though. It’s just something that made me stop short, before I’d even looked at the byline in my RSS feeder:
Imagine the irredeemably WASPish, cloistered Connecticut world of John Cheever if rendered by James Thurber, or John Updike’s suburban New England strivers and cheaters delivered by Oscar Wilde, or, better yet, imagine if you could make an alloy of H.L. Mencken’s irreligious perceptions and Dorothy Parker’s cagey sapience, and you might come close to beholding the vibrant abilities of Peter De Vries.
I’ve never read Peter De Vries. Let’s stipulate that he’s probably wonderful in all the ways described. I suspect, though, that this sentence would have benefited from about four fewer names included in it. The adjectives could have left too. I am no stranger to long, looping, complicated sentences, and in fact it annoys me that in my own work I have to use the shorter ones so often. The windup here simply goes on too long.
None of these are what bother me, though. What bothers me is this reference to Dorothy Parker’s “cagey sapience.” It’s so totally wrong it took my breath away. An insane overreaction, I know. This is the problem with writing a book about dead writers: you sometimes find yourself with highly developed opinions about other people’s tossed-off remarks about them.
So, caveat emptor, this is a nitpick. But I’m going to unpack it anyway in the interest of intellectualism and all that.