Ah, nothing like an old-fashioned East Coast-West Coast literary feud to spice up the summer. The scrappy upstarts at the Los Angeles Review of Books are apparently beefing with Robert Silvers's revered New York Review of Books, which is in the midst of its 50th-anniversary celebration. Well, the Southern California literati have no use for Manhattan reverence, according to a report by Marc Tracy in The New Republic.
The drama boiled over when the LARB published Nick Miriello's takedown of a NYRB review. That offending NYRB review, written by poet Frederick Seidel, was in turn a slight takedown of Rachel Kushner's otherwise universally praised novel The Flamethrowers.
But as Tracy notes in this morning's analysis, the LARB threw the first stone by choosing a name so close to that of its New York predecessor. He quotes LARB editor Tom Lutz as having said, “We are not under the shadow of the New York publishing industry and the kind of conventional wisdom of that industry.” Those are fighting words, in some circles.
It was only a matter of time before the city of Tom Wolfe hit back against the city of Lindsay Lohan. And while New York-based poets are within their rights to not like books by L.A.-based novelists, this passage in Seidel's review of Kushner does seem to hit a little too close to home for film-loving Angelenos:
The Flamethrowers has been praised in many places for the vivacity and invention of its language, [...] But to me the novel too often sounds like the stylized voice-over narration of film noir, sardonic, self-conscious, very American, the sound of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity.
One does not simply insult the pillars of a city's (admittedly small, but hey, at least they're not Denver) literary tradition. Accordingly, Miriello had a few choice words for Seidel. While Miriello's main complaint is that Seidel "made a clear decision to place style in front of substance" he also called the review "gallingly condescending" and "often inadequate." Siedel, in his review, asks "what is this book interested in?" Mirello mirrors him a line that perfectly sums up his argument: "What is this review interested in? Frederick Seidel."