BY MARK HOWELL

We came a cropper among the literary cognoscenti in town a while ago when we transcribed an opinion by the controversial Michiko Kakutani, a reviewer at the New York Times Book Review, on Anne Beattie’s book, “Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life.

The review has since became infamous for its awesome vindictiveness and when it first appeared we decided to quote a chunk of it simply for its unprecedented level of attack, having never read anything quite so mean-spirited.

Beattie and her husband, painter Lincoln Perry, happen to maintain a residence in Old Town in Key West and the local pushback from our spreading the worst of Kakutani’s invective was awesome in itself.

 

Friends and neighbors of the popular couple questioned whether our reproduction of Kakutani’s words represented an endorsement of them and if so, how dare we? A lot of folks have been waiting for an apology ever since.

 

So let’s put it this way.

 

Let’s quote from the London Review Books, which last month published an attack on Kakutani herself that is just as piercing in its vindictiveness.

 

A review by Benjamin Kunkel of a new novel, “Subtle Bodies” by Norman Rush, savages the savager.

 

Once again, we dare to quote this without necessarily endorsing its words but simply to balance things out a bit.

 

“Subtle Bodies” is Rush’s latest work in a series of novels that explore the nature of marriage. Modern American and British literature tends to overlook the subject in favor of what reviewer Kunkel calls “tales of adventure and terror fundamentally divided in spirit like a boy who tortures insects with his friends after accompanying his mother to church.” That is, instead of dwelling on the real-life facts of wooing, marriage and childbearing.

 

It was at Swarthmore, 56 years ago, that novelist Rush met the woman whose heart and mind have been featured in his novels such as “Mating, ”Mortals” and now “Subtle Bodies.” Opines the London Review of Books: “From the American novel since 1960 you learn next to nothing about what love between a grown-up man and woman might entail.” In Rush, on the other hand, we find “conception and friendship and what Buddhists call right livelihood.”

 

Michiko Kakutani, batterer of Beattie, likes none of this.

 

In Her review in the New York Times Book Review denounces “Subtle Bodies” as a tiresome,” eye-rolling awful,” “totally annoying novel” for having imagined that readers might “work up any interest” for its “pompous,” “narcissistic,” “pretentious,” “preening” characters.”

 

Comments critic Kunkel on this: “’Subtle Bodies’ in fact takes place inside the heads of the two leading characters and when the leading critic of the most cosmopolitan newspaper in the United States [Kakutani] sees real life as a straightforward phenomenon with which the head should not interfere, the old national prejudice against the representation of intellectuals’ mental lives” suggests nothing less than “a refusal of self-knowledge on the part of the elites.”

 

Ouch. Touché.

 

*****

Octahydrotetramethyl-naphalenyl-ethanone is the chemical used to reduce odor in permed hair.

 

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A new book on Charles Manson by Jeff Guinn reveals that the imprisoned “Helter Skelter” monster is a vegetarian, a subscriber to National Geographic and has outlived his son by Rosalie Willis, who committed suicide in 1993.

 

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You can fit this on the head of a pun:

 

Q. How do we get down from a roof?

 

A. We don’t. We get it from a duck.

 

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Quote of the Week:

 

“Everything was good. He wanted to be everywhere in this march. He felt drunk with gratitude and conviction of victory … there would be no war war in Iraq … He thought, no war, No invasion. No.”

 

— from “Subtle Bodies”

 

by Norman Rush

 

(disliked by Michiko Kakutani for its solipcism.)