New York magazine, which has one of the zippiest book sections around, along with their I-wish-they-posted-on-books-more Vulture blog, launched their first Vulture Reading Room book discussion. Did they start with typical book-group fare like Eat, Pray, Love or A Thousand Splendid Suns? Nope, they went right down in the muck with Wetlands, Charlotte Roche's gleefully smutty debut novel, which was a publishing phenomenon in her native Germany but seems to be turning out more midlisty in translation here in the States. Along with their excellent book critic, Sam Anderson, and their writer Adam Sternbergh, they've roped in novelists Ayelet Waldman and Kate Christensen and Bookslut honcho Jessa Crispin. The verdict: nearly unanimous. Some of the only mildly family-unfriendly quotes:
- Anderson: "There were moments ... when I
was 100 percent sure that this was the worst thing I'd ever read."
- Waldman: "So, cards on the table. I thought this was a loathsome little turd of a novel."
- Crispin: "So what if Wetlands is a total failure as a novel? I didn’t care about the parents, and no one in the book is slightly believable.... Honestly, I’m very glad Wetlands exists."
- Sternbergh: "Oh, and did I mention, IT’S SO BORING. Because it’s really, really
boring. I had several weeks to finish this slim volume and carried it
with me everywhere, yet reopening it filled me with dread every time. I
mourned the hours lost during which I could have been reading better
- Christensen: "How did you guys all manage to read the whole thing? This book bums me
out. I wanted to find it hilarious, transgressive, honest, and
interesting, but I can barely force myself to go on reading it. I'm
stuck on page 141. Not because I'm squeamish, which I am not in any
way, but because it's so searingly awful, as you've all already and
very eloquently and hilariously pointed out: tawdry, pointless, boring,
badly written ... eccch."
But then Anderson, despite the moments he mentions above, decided, either from an authentic contrarian spirit or from the necessity of keeping the conversation going for another round, to mount a defense of the book:
This is a genre novel. The genre is: a crazy book that might shock you
into thinking about your life differently. Like all genre novels
(except the amazingly great ones, which then cease to be genre novels),
Wetlands sacrifices "literary" texture and gravitas and
subtlety in order to achieve some other end. It wasn't written for
people who relish the sophisticated moment-by-moment pleasures of
Philip Roth. It was written by an admitted non-reader to (a) make
people laugh and then (b) to start, on the wave of that laughter, a big
giant global conversation about our totally messed-up relationships
with our bodies.
How will that gambit go over? Well, here's the first response, from Waldman:
How dare you insult genre writers? Raymond Chandler is a genre writer.
Ursula LeGuin is a genre writer. What genre are you talking about?
Regardless of the outcome, may the Vulture return to feed again. --Tom