Thursday, February 07, 2019

“Dave who?”

There's a New Yorker article that got me scanning our bookshelves. I was wondering what might be the most recent “It” novel in my possession that reached #1 on the NYT bestseller list. Near as I can tell, it's probably Jennifer Egan's A Visit From The Goon Squad.
Next to other au courant titles, including Neuromancer and Cheever's shorts.
Cretinous characters behaving cretinously, sweeping themes of innocence lost, youth vampirically feasted upon and betrayed — “Time's a goon, right?” — all of it steeped in rock 'n' roll. Good book. It came out in hardcover in 2011. I have the paperback, likely purchased the following year, when I was 47. Five or six years ago, in other words.

Back to the New Yorker story, a.k.a., the latest episode of “I'm not just getting older — I am getting OLD.”

This was the first I'd heard of NYT bestselling “It” novelist Dan Mallory.

In my 40s I could have told you his name and the title of his book, and probably summed up the plot in a way that didn't give up the game. In my 30s I would have made a point of checking out the book, and following up the who's who list of literati surrounding him. In my 20s I would have read the book and recited what was known about the author — because I made it my business to know about all the authors who made it to the NYT bestseller list.

But I am in my 50s.

Yesterday I read Ian Park's terrific expose of this young writer's bizarre cons, carried off with evident personal charm. The piece resonated with me — deeply, in fact — and yet one day after I finished it I still could not tell you the name of this guy. I might have settled on the title of his book — something about a woman . . . on a train? In a window? In a window on a train? A woman watching a train through a window?

Dan Mallory. There you go.

I think much of what grabbed me about Park's depiction of Mallory were characteristics I recognized in myself, when I was young and hungry and spending what little discretionary income I had playing SASE Roulette. It is perhaps difficult for me to judge from this distance of years, but I believe there was a vulnerable point in my mid-20s where I would have said and done just about anything to get into the authorial spotlight.

Writing and “being an author” are concerns that quickly conflate, for young fellas in their 20s. We settle on someone who's made a big splash, then puzzle over how best to emulate without aping. Bukowski was popular with some of my chums. Mallory's star to steer by appears to be — eep! — Patricia Highsmith's fictional psychopath Ripley.

In my case I was preoccupied with Robert Zimmerman's antics in his early 20s. I had the good fortune of a) not liking myself in that mode, and b) being surrounded by friends who called me out on it. Those are friends you keep — close.

Today there is an entire “call-out culture,” and nobody is your friend. I doubt a new Bob Dylan would get very far in the present environment — at this point it is difficult to discern what we as culture-hungry consumers gain and lose by such developments.

I'll admit I'm quietly hoping Don Maloney recovers. I may even make a point of buying his next book, just to encourage the poor guy.


pdb said...

Funny, I didn’t expect it, but I was getting strong sympathetic-vibration guilt too, reading this thing. You and I both so little like this wacko objectively, either in what we allow ourselves or in what we’ve managed to get away with in life in spite of ourselves — yet we identify with him. That is fascinating. Also pretty interesting that the tale wore me down in fairly short order, and still I marched on with it, compelled well beyond any actual enjoyment. That creeps me out more than the specter (just-off-camera) of Mendacious Mallory himself, here.

pdb said...

Have to wonder about the people, publishing pros and academics alike, who went for the not exactly believable concoctions, though, don’t you? Or rather maybe about state of the institutions they function in — certainly the book biz. Started to feel like the story was about that, at some point, more than about Mallory (who after all is just another sociopath getting on very well nowadays).

dpreimer said...

"The book biz" certainly, particularly since I suspected, in my youth, that it favoured fabulists who weren't fussy about keeping it on the page. When someone like McGarry can carry on with multiple variants of "I have a headache today" and still win the favour of the big league publishers it starts to look poorer on them than it does on him. And it doesn't look good on Lamorly.