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December 15, 2004

As If She Cares What I Think, But Still

by Ron Hogan

It's been nearly a month since NYTBR had a Liesel Schillinger review, and though recent pieces bugged me, her review last weekend of Inventing Beauty is the kind of solid writing with occasional flashes of humor that made me a fan of hers in the first place. Admittedly, the piece shows off less personality than has been evident in her recent NYTBR articles, but I'm willing to argue that that's a good thing--not that the personality in those pieces isn't interesting, but it appeared (to this reader, anyway) to be developed at the expense of weak books that wouldn't rate an appearance in the Review except as a foil for clever shredding, and, well, I just felt she could do better, and now I feel justified...even if other readers might say this piece was too dry.

One article they won't be calling dry, that's for sure, is Erica Jong's take on Sylvia Plath, and if you ever wanted to know whether Ted Hughes tried to put the moves on Jong, now you know. ("He was a born seducer," she reports, "and only my terror of Sylvia's ghost kept me from being seduced.") The overripe essay has its moments, but seems a little too concerned with impressing readers with how intimately Jong knows Plath's hardships because she lived through years of critical disrespect for women writers. When she mentions that "Anatole Broyard, the writer and critic, told my writing class at Barnard we hadn't the sort of experiences that made writers," one wonders (a) what the hell he was doing teaching writing at a women's college if he really felt that way, but, more importantly, (b) who else was in that writing class? Jong doesn't say, and the essay is only concerned with Plath and Jong's reaction to Plath, so when she says "we," as in "we would have to ride our own wave to believe in ourselves as writers," it pretty much reads as the royal "we." If you're looking for a concise, sober appraisal of the restored Ariel manuscript, I'd strongly recommend the Meghan O'Rourke review in Slate, which offers an insightful consideration of Ted Hughes' editorial work.

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