Terrified of the Inevitable, Impending Sept. 11 Novels
An email conversation about the news of the day.
Feb. 19 2002 1:45 PM

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Katie,

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Andrew Sullivan—I'm a fan, too—scares the hell out of me. He's becoming journalism's Joyce Carol Oates, a nonstop commentary machine. (Stop him before he posts again!)

After I filed my first e-mail today (an event that made me feel almost Andrew Sullivan-esque), I zipped onto Amazon.com to see what kind of response Native Speaker has been getting. You should have a look: There's a hilarious posting that's a preview of what a full-scale Chang-rae-Lee-athon would be like. (Here's a sample—the misspellings and mangled syntax aren't mine: "I have to write two essay 3-5 pages on Native Speakers by Chang-rae Lee. IT IS DO THURSDAY … I didn't really understand most of the story … Please help.")

(Katie: I just went back to grab the URL and the posting's gone! Spooky.)

You're right—I am terrified about all the lyrical Sept. 11 novels that are certain to be coming down the pike. This is a terrible comparison to make, I realize, but on some level they're probably going to be a lot like Holocaust novels. There will be some terrific, moving ones. And then there will be dozens and dozens in which a writer tries to smuggle Sept. 11 into the story as a cheap way to stir instant gravitas into an otherwise lame-o book. If only the gravity of an event had some remote correlation to the quality of the art, then we'd be someplace.

About the "Office of Strategic Influence" placing fake stories in the foreign press: I saw that headline this morning and almost spilled my coffee. I thought I was reading the Onion. We're entering Strangelove territory here. I also thought I was reading the Onion when I saw the story in today's New York Post about the "male sexuality" class at Berkeley that turned into an orgy. (The Post story doesn't seem to be online, but here's a report from the Sacramento Bee). Did you see that? It confirmed my suspicion that I went to the wrong college—or, at least, took the wrong classes.

Dwight

Dwight Garner is an editor at the New York Times Book Review. Katie Roiphe is the author of Still She Haunts Me.