The Acid Tongue
A Movie... and a Book... and a Review...
Selected By Cyril Wong
This one is an ax swung in the direction of Daniel Wagner’s first book, A Movie … and a Book, published this year by Alfred A. Knopf. I think the beginning of Aleksandar Hemon’s review makes its point with a terse display of restraint:
Daniel Wagner's A Movie ... and a Book is the worst book I have ever voluntarily read. Wagner is a 29-year-old snowboarder from Switzerland and has never written a book before. It seems that he has never read one either. Beginning with the absurd title, every page reveals such rich ineptitude in thinking and writing that its 100 or so pages feel endless…The clunky plot desperately strains to blur the border between fiction and reality—an idea so cheaply popular it should be withdrawn from circulation, perhaps even outright banned.
Amongst the fatal swipes at Knopf and at hackneyed moments in the book, Hemon directs his aim at the author’s simplistic writing style,
Wagner wrote his thing in English, not his native language, but that cannot possibly be an excuse for the calamity of this book. His writing is riddled with clichés that are daily struck down by conscientious high-school teachers. The characters always think "for a moment," as if a sustained thought is impossible in the Wagnerian world. "Silence" plagues the pages, and it often "follows" speech.
Is the silence following this outpouring of bile yet? No matter:
The thunder claps "Whrromp!" Every glance is recorded, for no discernable reason—everyone is "looking" or "focusing" all the time. The faces repeatedly "light up." People don't smile—they "start to smile"—and they do things "a little," even if much happens "all of a sudden." Here is a typical passage: "Liz started to smile, then started to say something, then thought better of it. Her smile faded for a moment, while she seemed to concentrate on a thought."
Hemon isn't, however, either cruel or charitable enough to observe that it could have been worse. After concentrating on the thought, Liz's face could have lit up. All of a sudden.
Wagner's writing is so thoroughly devoid of any verbal imagination or intelligence that, in comparison to him, a vocabulary-impoverished sports broadcaster sounds like Shakespeare. Moreover … ah, well, that's enough.
Hemon’s goes on all the way to the end to cut down not just the current publishing industry, but also the movie industry, and implicitly everybody that encourages their status quo:
QLRS Vol. 4 No. 2 Jan 2005
The significance of Wagner's scribbling is that it is exactly what you end up with if publishing and fiction writing become a pursuit of cheap hipness and movie rights. The blatant soliciting for a movie option altogether mocks the obsolescent category of literate readers—A Movie ... and a Book is an awful movie treatment undercover as a godawful novel. If Wagner's début represents a new cynicism in the industry currently enmeshed in a publishing frenzy, the day when editors will hire some good-looking people to pretend to be writers—the literary equivalent of 'N Sync—could be only weeks away…Perhaps it should be encouraging to young writers to know they are running out of cool authors in New York, so they have to import them from Switzerland. Or to witness that the democratic ideal inherent in literature—everybody has something to say—has reached its limit in Wagner's case: It is no longer necessary to be able to write in order to be a writer. You just have to appear cool, and some publisher, forgetting what brought him to books in the first place, will pick up the meanderings you jotted down stoned out of your head. Alas, there are readers, the people who might buy the book, believing for a careless moment the publisher's praise and lies. There are those silly people who read, who choose one of those 10,000 novels and spend some time trying, for no particular reason, to listen to and understand a perfect stranger. To those people Daniel Wagner and his publisher owe at least an attempt at writing.
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