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November 13, 2004

Tom Wolfe's Got a Weird John Irving Phone Fantasy

by Ron Hogan

wolfe2.jpgYou might want to check out the Daily Show interview archives, where Tom Wolfe explains how he started visiting college campuses after hearing stories not just about the sex and drugs, but also about political correctness--and "hadn't seen anybody write about it." Jon Stewart is a fairly respectful interviewer, though he wonders if Wolfe doesn't sound "like Forrest Gump out there," while the author makes a fairly valid point about the utility of "the man from Mars perspective."

If you don't have the right version of Windows Media Player, don't worry: Wolfe tells many of the same anecdotes to Aileen Jacobson of Newsday, and it becomes clearer that when he's talking about parents dealing with college students bringing their boy/girilfriends home, he's talking about his daughter, Alexandra. It also explains that when Wolfe told Stewart he didn't see anybody writing about campus sex and political correctness, he meant in fiction, as "the occasional novel about college seemed to make no attempt to get into the spectrum of undergraduate life."

Wolfe also has an answer to Adam Kirsch, whose review described Wolfe's prose as trafficking in stereotypes, including anti-Jewish stereotypes: "It's just juvenile. It's a slimy sort of smear. Underline slimy. It's slimy." Then he claims the very mention of his name reduces John Irving to obscene incoherency:

"Call him up and tell him you interviewed me and I said it's too bad he's wasted so much of his talent on unreal things. You'll get 30 seconds of sputtering, then the first naughty word that comes to his mind, then maybe 180 seconds of incomprehensible talk."

Who could resist? "He doesn't make me sputter or curse," says Irving, crisply, on the phone. Many authors were offended by "a dilettante, an amateur, telling us how to write. ... I find his sentences are poorly constructed and often hyperbolic..." He finds Wolfe's challenge "rather silly," he says. "But I'm happy he keeps it up. It gets my name in the press during a year when I'm not publishing a book."

Oh, and Scott Esposito of Conversational Reading gets the first and best word on this bizarro profile. "He wrote scathing articles about The New Yorker years ago and editors and the magazine would not comment on him for this story." Gee, you think maybe because it was forty or so years ago and a good portion of the people he was writing about are too dead to comment? And David Remnick was what, just out of diapers, and probably not interested in fighting what clearly isn't his fight?

photo: Bruce Gilbert


Note, however, that he does not actually deny being anti-semitic. Telling, perhaps.

Posted by: The Significant Other at November 16, 2004 10:12 PM
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