While cleaning out a closet of junk the other day, I came upon a press from 2000 for a novel by Walter Kirn, "Thumbsucker." This was during a brief period right after I'd moved east, when a few established writers were trying-- unsuccessfully, it turned out-- to get me to "play the game." I was asked to write a review for a glossy publication, and given, among the books to read, the Kirn novel.
There may be no writer who better typifies the mediocrity of the clique of Insider writers-- those endlessly hyped by the mandarins of the mainstream (obsolete places like the NEW YORKER and NY TIMES) than Walter Kirn. He's a graduate of Princeton and Oxford. (Rhodes Scholar?) He's held important jobs at NEW YORK, TIME, and GQ magazine. You'd think someone from this impressive background, these layers of learning, would be able to write something meaningful, of wide scope, on the order perhaps of the best works of James Gould Cozzens.
Instead he cranks out novels about self-obsessed adolescents with problems like thumbsucking!
An excerpt from the feverish press release (which includes a host of rave reviews by establishment publications-- which didn't stop the novel from immediately sinking):
"His mother, Audrey, is a nurse who works nights and dreams of a date with don Johnson. His brother, Joel, hides behind tennis lessons and Sergio valente jeans worn with Izod polo shirts. And his grandparents are living out their old age in a motor home called the Horizoneer, where they mix bourbon sours and read true crime magazines to pass the time. They're a regular All-American family."
This sounds like a parody of a bad press release. One has to wonder of the mentality of the pr person (Alison Rich) who thought such pap sounds compelling. The blurbs make the novel seem awful (not as bad as it is in actuality); the febrile conception of a bad novel, like shoddy movie producers in Hollywood concocting an unfunny situation comedy.
I was expected to give a positive review of this book, I guess, because the review I wrote about it was rejected! (They ran with a lukewarm review of a JT Leroy book instead, making a change or two first to make what I said more positive.)
Anyway, the point is that many of our well-hyped authors aren't as good as any shuffling writer you're liable to find on the street!