Wednesday, January 11, 2006


Frey, laziest lead, Barnes, REFCO's Tale: From Bad to Verse

The Frey Affair has been covered so extensively by other bloggers (not to mention the New York Times) that I hesitated to pile on. After all, I had never read the book--the author's noisy self-regard in that old New York Observer interview was enough to put me off--and I didn't really care if he was prone to embellishment. Last night, however, I glanced at The Smoking Gun's investigation, which makes for some very entertaining reading, and was, well, shocked. It wasn't Frey's comical and compulsive fibbing that threw me. No, it was the brief excerpts from the book. Here, for example, is a key passage:
As I was driving up, I saw her standing out front with a few of her friends. I was staring at her and not paying attention to the road and I drove up onto a sidewalk and hit a Cop who was standing there. I didn't hit him hard because I was only going about five miles an hour, but I hit him. The Cop called for backup and I sat in the car and stared at her and waited. The backup came and they approached the car and asked me to get out and I said you want me out, then get me out, you fucking Pigs. They opened the door, I started swinging, and they beat my ass with billy clubs and arrested me. As they hauled me away kicking and screaming, I tried to get the crowd to attack them and free me, which didn't happen.
And here's another, also documenting Frey's troubled relationship with the Men in Blue:
About an hour after we got there, some Cops walk in with a Guy I'd never seen before. These were Small-Town Cops, fat stupid Assholes with mustaches and beer guts and badges. I knew them and they knew me. In the years I had spent in that Town, I had openly taunted them and had dared them to try and catch me on something, which they never had. Now they had this new Guy, and they marched up to me, full of bullshit Cop bravado, and they pulled out a warrant, and they said I had to come down to the Station with them to answer some questions. They said there was another team of People searching my House with dogs. I laughed and told them to get the fuck out of my face, and the new Guy pulled out his badge and said Son, I am with the FBI and your number is up, and he grabbed me and hauled my ass out of there...
Assuming that these are representative passages, I have to say that this is one pathetic mudpie of a memoir. It sounds just terrible: inept, whiny, puerile. Can this really be the same book that Pat Conroy called "the War and Peace of addiction"? Is our literary culture so fixated on the crudest narratives of abuse and redemption that we no longer care if they're written in crayon? These are, I admit, rhetorical questions. A Million Little Pieces sold in the neighborhood of 150,000 copies even before Oprah anointed it with her magic wand. Since then it's blown past the two million mark--only Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (which may be nearly as factual a production as Frey's book) surpassed it in 2005. The public has spoken. If the author makes a decent showing on Larry King tonight--caked, no doubt, in blood, vomit, urine, and a dash of WD-40--I guarantee he'll be forgiven. Yes, Virginia, there are second acts in American life.

Next, the Laziest Lead of 2006. Sure, the year is still young and this doozy will no doubt be bettered, but Michiko Kakutani is currently way ahead of the pack. Here's how she began her review of Nick Laird's Utterly Monkey on Friday:
Question: what do you get if you combine the TV series "The Office" and the Guy Ritchie movie "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" with a Nick Hornby novel and the Kingsley Amis classic, "Lucky Jim"?
Come now! Almost every critic has fallen back on the venerable what-do-you-get trick. It's fast, it's easy, and it absolves you of having to say something original about the book at hand. But who else would have the gumption to drag a TV series, a movie, and two different novelists (apparently Nick Hornby's novels are interchangeable) into a single comparison? Hats off, is what I say.

I see that I'm hitting too many peevish notes, so I'll cheer up now with two short bits. First, here's a link to Kerry Fried's fine review of the new Julian Barnes in Newsday. Praising Arthur & George, she also notes the characteristic paradoxes of the author's career:
Julian Barnes will never be the bean counters' golden boy, and his elastic fictions that can pirouette into essay mode still give guardians of genre boundaries the willies. But for more than 25 years this ultra-gifted English writer has twitted both groups while delighting so many others.

For instance, his third novel, Flaubert's Parrot (1984)--a dazzling, moving take on the truths of art and the uncertainties of reality--might have faded on the shelves of a self-selecting few. Instead, it is very much in print. On the other hand, the four crime novels he published as Dan Kavanagh, featuring a neatnik bisexual detective, ended up, Barnes laughingly claims, being subsidized by Flaubert's Parrot.
Finally, Nina's poem about the REFCO scandal finally came out in Financial Engineering News. "REFCO's Tale: From Bad to Verse" is, to my knowledge, the only account of this smelly business scandal in (mostly) iambic tetrameter. She concludes with these allusive stanzas:
One of the biggest brokers came unmoored
Because its finances were obscured.
To borrow from Yeats, what this conveyed:
"The struggle of the fly in marmalade."

So where was SarbOx, the level best
That Congress produced to yank and wrest
Financial bedlam and fiscal slight
From the quarterlies and the news at night?
You'll find plenty of other treats in there, including an answer to the question that has dogged poets for centuries: what rhymes with "bankruptcy protection"?

I don't want to get a repetitive stress injury from flogging a dead Horse-Frey either, but I just HAVE to agree that the most vertigo-inducing thing about the whole mess was the 'much ado about nothing' stance of supposedly intelligent readers who seem to have glossed right over the fact that Frey can't write, PERIOD. The non-existent J.T. Leroy is only slightly better but still eye-crossingly bad. In both cases, had the work been top notch, not only wouldn't I have minded the deceptions, I probably would have applauded. American 'Literature' is just about as polarized as Politics these days, with the US vs THEM framed in clearcut terms of IQ. It's all about the numbers.
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