Despite the signs of torpor around here, there is, in fact, a little action brewing these parts. I've got a review going live on Tuesday. And I'm working to get some of the outdated parts of this site repaired. (Yes, I know the blogroll disappeared. That sort of thing.)
In truth, though, I've been navigating a fair amount of personal turmoil down TEV way. And I'm teaching this semester. And I am working hard to try to get Part One of my novel finished. (Already behind schedule.) All of which to say, it's been increasingly hard to keep things alive here, but I'm not quite ready to throw in the towel. Because, to my surprise, there are still things that pop up that I want to talk about.
Today's case in point: this essay by the brilliant Daniel Mendelsohn, one of my favorite critics. In the current NYRB he takes on Mad Men, a show whose appeal I have never understood. I found the first few episodes broad, cartoonish and cheesy beyond belief. And although many have said to me that it picked steam later, I never quite believed it. Here, Mendelsohn nails my experience of the show:
To my mind, the picture is too crude and the artist too pleased with himself. InMad Men, everyone chain-smokes, every executive starts drinking before lunch, every man is a chauvinist pig, every male employee viciously competitive and jealous of his colleagues, every white person a reflexive racist (when not irritatingly patronizing). It’s not that you don’t know that, say, sexism was rampant in the workplace before the feminist movement; it’s just that, on the screen, the endless succession of leering junior execs and crude jokes and abusive behavior all meant to signal “sexism” doesn’t work—it’s wearying rather than illuminating.
And then there's this, which bloody nails it:
Worst of all—in a drama with aspirations to treating social and historical “issues”—the show is melodramatic rather than dramatic. By this I mean that it proceeds, for the most part, like a soap opera, serially (and often unbelievably) generating, and then resolving, successive personal crises (adulteries, abortions, premarital pregnancies, interracial affairs, alcoholism and drug addiction, etc.), rather than exploring, by means of believable conflicts between personality and situation, the contemporary social and cultural phenomena it regards with such fascination: sexism, misogyny, social hypocrisy, racism, the counterculture, and so forth.
Hear, hear. I sleep better at night knowing Mendelsohn's on the job.
Anyway, there will be more soon. There's much to discuss, including Sheila Heti's publication difficulties; Jonathan Evison's new novel; the Elizabeth Bishop riches coming from FSG; and, of course, more James Salter. Plus a few of my Novel III class discussion, which seemed to good not to share here. So hang tight, stay true. There's life in the old boy yet.