I understand that anything less than fulsome praise for the artistic stylings of untalented multi-millionaires will crush the Fragile Spirits of today’s Sensitive Teenagers (and, alas, I do think that this comment was serious.) Despite this, I see no way to avoid quoting from this review of Newt Gingrich’s new literary classic, which has the soaring ambition to be the worst art ever produced about Pearl Harbor (far from an easy task, given that America’s Worst Director has already set the standard.) How bad does a book have to be to get a hatchet job from Janet Maslin? Behold:
When the attack began, it was Dec. 7 at Pearl Harbor but Dec. 8 in Japan. The book is subtly subtitled “A Novel of December 8th” to signal its attention to the Japanese point of view. On the basis of that detail, you might expect a high level of fastidiousness from “Pearl Harbor.”
And you would be spectacularly wrong. Because you would find phrases like “to withdraw backward was impossible,” sounds like “wretching noises” to accompany vomiting, or constructions like “incredulous as it seemed, America had not reacted.” Although the book has two authors, it could have used a third assigned to cleanup patrol.
This is not a matter of isolated typographical errors. It is a serious case for the comma police, since the book’s war on punctuation is almost as heated as the air assaults it describes. “One would have to be dead, very stupid Fuchida thought,” the book says about the fighter pilot Mitsuo Fuchida, “not to realize they were sallying forth to war.” Evidence notwithstanding, the authors do not mean to insult the fighter pilot’s intelligence — or, presumably, the reader’s.
Some of these glitches are brief, while some are windier. The long ones are particularly dangerous. Here is what happens when James Watson, an academic and a decoding expert who is one of the book’s cardboard Americans (as opposed to its cardboard British and Japanese figures), has lunch:
“James nodded his thanks, opened the wax paper and looked a bit suspiciously at the offering, it looked to be a day or two old and suddenly he had a real longing for the faculty dining room on campus, always a good selection of Western and Asian food to choose from, darn good conversations to be found, and here he now sat with a disheveled captain who, with the added realization, due to the direction of the wind, was in serious need of a good shower.”
James lives in Hawaii with his half-Japanese wife, Margaret. Margaret is the book’s only female character, and she barely appears. This is evidence that Mr. Gingrich has learned that politicians writing fiction are well advised to avoid eroticism. The book’s only trace of the lascivious is a reference to rising wartime hemlines in Britain because of an effort to conserve cloth.
Elsewhere in Hawaii, among the fighting forces, things are typically editor-proof. In a case for James’s decoding skills, the book says: “The boys had money in their pockets to burn and fresh in from the West Coast the obligatory photos with hula girls, sentimental silk pillows for moms and girlfriends, and ridiculous-printed shirts had sold like crazy.”
Even leaving aside the writing that could make Jewel look like Yeats, the apparent lack of not only eroticism but female characters pre-empts some of the so-bad-it’s-entertaining moments that distinguish the fiction of Bill “He was speaking hushed tones, telling her how much he enjoyed her body, using words that in polite conversation would have been vulgar, but in this context were extremely erotic” O’Reilly and Orson “Thank God after a long day of dealing with liberal academics who, after solemn reflection, I’ve convinced are entirely evil I can return home to the killer bod of my wife, Scoop Jackson” Scott Card. Whoops, there I go again, discouraging teenagers who might otherwise be writing novels about killing everyone who ever gave them a negative job evaluation or stapling a bunch of position papers rejected as “too simplistic and knee-jerk reactionary” by a local Young Republican newsletter together and calling it a “novel.” My apologies, but keep in mind that if they keep pressing on they can get a featured podcast interview from Glenn Reynolds, so it will all be good…