Saturday, January 2, 2010

"The Naked and the Conflicted" by Katie Roiphe

Katie Roiphe has a good essay in this week's New York Times Sunday Book Review. Titled "The Naked and the Conflicted," it contrasts the sexual descriptions and attitudes in the fictions of Mailer, Updike and Roth with those in the works of their perceived successors: Franzen, Chabon, and the tragically late D. F. Wallace. While Roiphe's last sentence set my bullshit detector beeping like a geiger counter at Los Alamos, the rest of the essay is worth reading. And Roiphe hits quite a few bullseyes, as when she describes the Franzen-Chabon-Wallace generation as "writers in love with irony, with the literary possibility of self-consciousness so extreme it almost precludes the minimal abandon necessary for the sexual act itself, and in direct rebellion against the Roth, Updike and Bellow their college girlfriends denounced." The last part of that sentence carries the most powerful sting: Roiphe suggests that the most feted 'young male writers' of our time are a group of middle-aged men still writing to impress the girls they thought they loved when they were nineteen. Ouch.

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