Saturday, October 13, 2007

Exit dignity

The very first review I ever wrote was of Oliver Stone's JFK. I did it when I was, I think, in Grade 12, and it got published in The Ottawa Citizen as part of some "kidz R smart" page full of student-generated content. I got paid exactly $15, which I spent on gas for my parents' car and a pack of cigarettes. (I know: badass.)

The review was a negative one, full of snark and written from the vantage point of a very high horse (might as well begin as I meant to go on). I remember liking the basic narrative, but hating Stone's choppy editing and lazy, superfluous futzing around with tone and chronology – even then I had the soul of a reactionary. But still, you can always sense immediately when an artist is consciously fucking around with his material to give it more of a high-art obscurantist gloss. True artists aim for absolute clarity, always. Any difficulty in the final work should be a direct result of the breadth and depth of the vision. In that sense, a book such as To The Lighthouse is only tough going because Woolf keeps telling you exactly what's going on, while providing none of the conventional narrative footholds.

(Uh, I didn't put all that in the review, but I'm sure I was thinking it...)

In the end, any possible seventeen-year-old authority I might have had was dispersed by the way I wrote the review: as an address to a jury, the lamest review-conceit around.

The only one worse than that is a review written the voice or style of the book/film/whatever under consideration. That's just egregious and embarrassing for all involved.

So why oh why did the Globe allow Johanna Schneller to frame her interview with Philip Roth as one of the fictional dialogues from Exit Ghost? (Never mind the questionnaire-style questions she lobs his way: "How many hours a day do you write?" "Who influenced your writing?") On the other hand, Roth is interesting to read in any format, so go read it anyway.

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