introducing readers to writers since 1995

October 12, 2004


by Ron Hogan

Technically, I'm not in LA yet, but brunching in the restaurant at the Long Beach airport...which is wireless all over, as far as I can make out! Two of the four magazines I picked up for the flight had reviews of The Plot Against America, and since Stanley Crouch's slaphappy assault on the book is still fresh on my mind, I was particularly impressed with how Clive James handles matters for The Atlantic. James isn't entirely happy with the novel, but he has at least one complaint against it I haven't seen before: "For a writer blessed with the eyes and ears to find real life fantastic in every detail, fantasy is the wrong form." Which comes dangerously close to addressing the science fiction question, but then skirts it by the reductive proposition that "the predecessor of The Plot Against America is Robert Harris's Fatherland," at which point James seems to feel he's exhausted the possibilities of alternate history.

Like other critics unsatisfied with Roth's latest, James thinks the Lindbergh-driven America isn't rendered with sufficient plausibility. "America was never Germany," James writes, and not even a popular president could have made things so hard for the Jews so quickly. And like Crouch, who wondered why Roth didn't depict any black people decrying anti-Semitism, James asks why Walter Lippmann, an avid assimilationist, never shows up. But here's the thing: James addresses his concerns in a way that (A) takes Roth's fictional proposition seriously on its own terms by offering a suggestion of how Roth might better examine his own chosen issues, and (B) doesn't assume that everybody besides James is ignorant of American history. His mature critical response stands in sharp contrast to Crouch's petulant tantrum, and stands as a model for how to disagree with a book reasonably and responsibly.


I really like your site, and appreciate you linking me in, but I also find it annoying that you link us to articles/publications that require a subscription. Your blog, your choice, but that's my view. Also, you seem to be quite pleased with Clive James (whom I consider to be the best critic in the English language, but also highly fallible) because he's not Stanley Crouch. Couldn't you take James on his own terms and let your thing with Crouch (which I regard as wholly justified) go at that? I would hope so.

Posted by: George at October 12, 2004 02:19 PM

America was never Germany, but over the past three years things have sure gotten difficult for anyone with a middle eastern last name.

Posted by: Daniel at October 12, 2004 02:55 PM

George: I appreciate your dissatisfaction with the links that require subscription, but I gotta make do with what I've got! For those sites that merely require registration, rather than a paid subscription, there's always!

As for the James/Crouch dichotomy, well, yes, James isn't Crouch, but my joy upon reading James has largely to do with the things that make him James, not his not being Crouch. That the two articles, of such widely diverging quality, should come up on my radar within such a brief interval is purely an accident of history, but it would be pointless to deny that James' good writing didn't remind me how bad Crouch's bad, bad writing is.

Posted by: editor at October 12, 2004 08:33 PM
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