Give It Up, Maslin

Janet Maslin has continued to infect the Gray Lady’s pages with cloying and annoying book reviews. But the New York Times sunk to a new low today in assigning her Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 to review. This is a bit like asking Sarah Palin (a name strangely consonant with “Janet Maslin,” come to think of it) to write a 1,000-word review of a Thomas Mann novel. Let us count the ways in which Maslin offends:

1. The first paragraph. Here’s a hint, Janet. When remarking upon an author’s great command with a long sentence, it might be a good idea to keep your own sentences clean. Where were the copy editors on this? “A lot of commas adorn this story of a Swabian who promoted cultural events for a Frisian town that was visited by an elusive literary genius who might or might not have been named Benno von Archimboldi and who spoke with a woman who went to Buenos Aires and met a little gaucho who presented her with a riddle that Archimboldi solved on the spot.” You couldn’t write one-tenth as skillfully as Bolaño if you tried. You could have told us in the previous sentence that the Bolaño sentence was stacked with multiple commas. This longass sentence could have been easily split up into three. You’re supposed to articulate the goddam book for the reader, not confuse the reader further.

2. Bolaño’s Foresight: Who gives a shit if Bolaño knew his work would be well received? What is this? People Fucking Magazine? Your job is to understand the book, not play armchair doc with an author who isn’t even alive to respond to your amateurish psychobabble.

3. Literary Superstar Status: Maslin writes that Bolaño “would now be enjoying literary superstar status if fate had been kinder.” Obviously, Maslin hasn’t been paying attention. Nearly every literary person I know is getting her panties wet about 2666. Dude currently is a literary superstar. A dead literary superstar, but a literary superstar nonetheless.

4. Maslin’s a Qualified Polyglot? We are informed by Maslin that 2666 “has been translated with wonderful agility by Natasha Wimmer.” Does Maslin read Spanish? Is she in possession of the original text? What “wonderful agility” does Wimmer have exactly? Does Maslin wish to imply that Wimmer is a long distance runner? What? The? Fuck? Maslin?

5. “Worshipful Adulation”: Adulation, by its very definition, is already worshipful, because it is predicated on flattery or admiration. So what was the point of this modifier exactly?

6. Relying on the Afterword: Yes, by all means, quote gratuitously from the afterword to imply that you read the book in whole, as opposed to a later section in the text. If you were a real critic, you’d quote from a source outside the book.

7. Thomas Wolfe: So because Thomas Wolfe wrote a long narrative over multiple books, he’s worth bringing up in this review. But length is the only common variable you can bring up? Sweet Jesus. Have you even read another Chilean writer?

8. Random References: “Far better to think of David Lynch, Marcel Duchamp (both explicitly invoked here) and the Bob Dylan of “Highway 61 Revisited,” all at the peak of their lucid yet hallucinatory powers.” Yes, “far better” when you can just toss around random names that Bolaño brought up in the book without specifying specific artistic corollaries. You bring up the Duchamp and Lynch specifics later, but if you can’t connect Dylan, why bring him up?

9. Gratuitous Gore: Always of concern to a gratuitous critic.

10. 300 Slow Pages: Oh dear! You couldn’t wolf down the book!

Vanishing: the exact opposite of what Janet Maslin will do.

Orthofer is also horrified.


It is certainly true that I have tendered a certain suspicion to those who soften themselves before Roberto Bolaño’s sunshine without seeking a critical shade. I have dutifully set aside 2666 as a tome to be entombed with me during Thanksgiving. Some have been overly content to deify Bolaño or suggest that he is the Messiah. (The phrase “more popular than Jesus” comes to mind, although Lorin Stein, quite surprisingly, did not plan for the hype last week.) Some, naturally suspicious of this literary worth, have given voice to softly muttered suspicions.

As for me, I do not have an opinion either way. Not until I’ve read all 900 pages. So you may hear from me on the subject in early December (or before!). Extraordinary proof, however, requires extraordinary evidence.