Monday, April 12, 2010

Ian McEwan & Michiko Kakutani

I simply must confess right here and now that I rarely see eye to eye with Michiko Kakutani, the eminent, and yes, hot, New York Times book critic. I know it's blasphemy to say it, but she has a big problem reviewing the books of fully mature writers.

I couldn't disagree more with her assessment that Ian McEwan "has long had a penchant for creating unsavory, disreputable characters: children who bury their mother in the basement (“The Cement Garden”), a Machiavellian sadist who preys on a pair of middle-class tourists (“The Comfort of Strangers”), a dead woman’s conniving former lovers (“Amsterdam”), an adolescent girl who makes false accusations against a man that will alter his life and the life of her entire family (“Atonement”)."

Sorry. In Atonement, the girl was a bit younger than "adolescent." Absolutely. Did Kakutani read it? She was neither unsavory nor disreputable. She plunged head first into an action that had repercussions she'd never dreamed of, and, when the tragedy played out, she forced herself to pay for it, for decades after, far beyond what the sin was worth. Furthermore, McEwan never wavered from his sympathetic portrayal of her.

Notice that Kakutani does not mention any of McEwan's recent books. Not the surgeon in Saturday, nor the young newlyweds in At Chesil Beach. In the latter novel, McEwan showed a profound understanding of the sexual lives of men and women, and his sympathy for the bride and her asexuality is unparalleled in fiction.

Kakutani's misreading of McEwan's body of work makes me doubt her assessment of his latest novel, Solar. I hope to read it very soon. But I very much doubt I'll be laughing over it as she did. His funniest novel yet? Come on, Kakutani. It may be a satire, but McEwan is a dead serious writer, and the laughs, for what they're worth, are all at gallows.

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