Johnny America


Let­ter from the Ed­i­tor [of a Stuffy Lit­er­ary Review]


My dear­est and faith­ful readers,

As you may or may not have heard some­where along the rot­ting stems of the grapevine, the on-again, off-again feud be­tween my­self and my broth­er-in-law/s­light­ly-less-than for­mi­da­ble es­say­ist Mar­shall Cow­ard has now been de­clared on, again. For­tu­nate­ly my staff is more than pre­pared for any on­slaught with a mag­a­zine’s worth of sar­cas­tic jabs and pas­sive-ag­gres­sive snubs that they arm be­hind a hu­man shield of ded­i­cat­ed fe­male in­terns. For those who are un­pleas­ant­ly out of the loop of the cir­cum­stances in which I am placed, al­low me to turn your un­pleas­ant un­aware­ness in­to a pleas­ant one. An aware­ness that is.

It seems as though it was yes­ter­day when Mar­shall shat­tered the peace of my morn­ing cof­fee and proof­read­ing by way of leav­ing at least 45 (give or take, most­ly give though, I’m sure) voice­mails that range from snarky to terse and topped off by near-bel­li­cose with a side of sex­u­al in­nu­en­do con­cern­ing a not pos­si­ble, but def­i­nite and gush­ing­ly pos­i­tive re­view of his de­but book of es­says, In­deed: Es­says which by all ac­counts was get­ting some rather glow­ing press in such jour­nal­is­tic out­lets of the brown­stone jet­set­ters as The New York­er, The New York Times Re­view of Books and (the on­ly good re­view by a crit­ic who was not friends with Mar­shall at Bard) Nor­man Mail­er in Van­i­ty Fair, which does not say much about the book and says even less of Nor­man Mailer.

Since we were fam­i­ly I agreed to take the book and as­sign it to a crit­ic. But since I was not from Bard, let alone a friend there was on­ly one per­son I could give it to and if you haven’t guessed al­ready it was none oth­er than Stone Jerome him­self. Jerome, the pos­si­bly bipo­lar recluse who on­ly con­tacts an­oth­er liv­ing, breath­ing hu­man be­ing when he has some­thing scathing to say, did his finest work in the shred-tear­ing of In­deed: Es­says.

My imag­i­na­tion flares every time I pon­der the kind of rage that washed over old Mar­shal­l’s poor, pale vis­age. Sur­pris­ing­ly he took it out on Jerome. Clear­ly Mar­shall had nev­er used the mid­dle stall in the Al­go­nquin Ho­tel men’s room in which Glo­ria Steinem wrote “Nev­er fuck with Stone Jerome!” in pur­ple nail pol­ish on the side wall. He would­n’t have been the first to dis­re­gard that cru­cial edict; it’s what made Faulkn­er’s ac­cep­tance of the No­bel a mat­ter of life and death. Need­less to say Mar­shal­l’s life was a Pulitzer-less liv­ing hell.

It was on­ly a mat­ter of time un­til Mar­shall would eaves­drop on enough cock­tail and club sand­wich ban­ter to find out that the re­view was just a bit­ter (and I ad­mit some­what un­eth­i­cal, but no doubt amus­ing) ruse for be­ing — and do par­don me for say­ing this so blunt­ly — an ar­ro­gant prick. Hence it was al­so on­ly a mat­ter of time un­til Mar­shall would re­tal­i­ate, and bit­ter­ly at that. What I end­ed up do­ing was es­sen­tial­ly blow­ing a dam apart, and what would flush out of it would be a con­stant, ribcage-pul­ver­iz­ing stream of an­gry es­says about how poor an ed­i­tor I am, even go­ing so far as to ex­am­ine al­most every ar­ti­cle I over­saw in col­lege as the pa­per copy ed­i­tor and nit­pick every mis­take. It did­n’t work. My lack of at­ten­tion to de­tail in text is just as leg­endary in the lit game as Mar­shal­l’s non-ex­is­tent sense of hu­mor and eas­i­ly dam­aged ego. So dam­aged that the es­says (a to­tal of six) were mere­ly rough drafts and iron­i­cal­ly bare­ly proof­read. Win-win sit­u­a­tion for me.

This kind of be­hav­ior has per­sist­ed be­tween us for a few years now. In Mar­shal­l’s last two books, Qui­et So: Es­says and Hereto­fore: Es­says, this mag­a­zine has served as the thorn in his side and some are now catch­ing on that it is de­served­ly so. It’s not long that the brown­stone jet­set­ters can tol­er­ate the wit­ty jib-jab­bing about lost loves and one night stands from col­lege and fam­i­ly re­unions or the ill-in­formed, am­bigu­ous but nonethe­less wit­ty po­lit­i­cal piece that was ac­cept­ed in­to The Na­tion­al Re­view as a last re­sort. And we must­n’t ne­glect the to­ken iron­ic trib­ute to the work­ing class joe try­ing to save mon­ey so his daugh­ter can go to med school in the un­like­ly event that her schol­ar­ship would fall through and the to­ken es­say on how Neo-Nazis are sil­ly lit­tle peo­ple in fun­ny clothes. Not to men­tion that the same es­say on try­ing to buy George Plimp­ton’s gold-plat­ed yacht ap­pears in all three books but with a new run-on sen­tence added on each time!

So fair read­ers, feel free to brace your­selves for an on­com­ing con­flict that shall sure­ly be so in­tense that no one will even read any­more as the hype and hot gos­sip sur­round­ing our bout will on­ly dis­tract from such leisure­ly ac­tiv­i­ties. Plus we will no doubt be launch­ing books at one an­oth­er left and right.


Dashiell Chan­dler Vales

Ed­i­tor-in-Chief, St. Some­where Evening Review

Filed under Letters on November 21st, 2006

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