Sam Tanenhaus Goes Yard

One of the better editions of the Sunday review of books broke through the summer haze this morning. Here are the highlights: Sam Lipsyte, a blogosphere homey, reviewing Canaan’s Tongue, a dead on take on The Historian, and well written essay by Sam Tanenhaus on Daniel Fuchs’ The Golden West. Here’s a gem from the review: “mass entertainment, if it’s any good, cannot be mass produced, but must be improvised anew each time, just like art, because it is art.” Someone should make a banner out of this phrase, hire a small aircraft, and fly it over Burbank in a continuous loop. A trip up the Hudson might not be a bad idea either so that New York publishers can take a long look at the role model they have embraced.

The compilation of Fuchs stories and essays goes well beyond the Hollywood Babylon montage of sneering producers and addled stars. Tanenhaus offers a tour of a creative man, a novelist, who sells out the culture for cash in 1937. It would have easy, in lesser hands, to dismiss Fuchs, but the background of the Depression coupled with the insecurity bred of immigration offer a much more complex study of an artist whose needs are imbedded in his fears.

The review of Elizabeth Kostova’s novel The Historian brought up some interesting points about the book’s strengths and weaknesses without yielding to the inevitable snark about The Count. The reviewer, Henry Alford, talks about the chapter endings, every one a cliffhanger, a cadence that renders some of the scenes comical rather than chilling. Alford saw my million dollars and raised to two million, the sum that Little, Brown bestowed on the author. The relevance of her advance is simple: expectations are raised when a lot of money is on the table. Much has been written about the literary author on the receiving end of a ten grand offer. Imagine an office where everyone does the same job for ten grand, but one employee knocks down two million bucks. People are going to talk about that person, shun that person, and decry the fact that her work, no better than others, is so handsomely rewarded. It might drive a person to become a screenwriter where disrespect, contempt, and derision come with a designated parking place. Ask Daniel Fuchs about that.

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