Friday, April 14, 2006

Michiko's Teensy-Weensy Thesaurus (April 14 edition)

I discussed Ben Yagoda's smackdown of Michiko Kakutani in a previous post, in which I dutifully pointed out Kakutani's overuse of the idiosyncratic phrase "cringe-making" and of the word "savvy."

Now, I am fully aware that we all are guilty of flogging certain words, but Kakutani suffers from the twin tics of overexploiting phrases of her own invention and of employing uncommon and garish words repeatedly in similar contexts.

In defiance of the widespread water-cooler commentary generated by Yagoda's hit piece and seemingly oblivious to her resurgent status as the punchline to a literary joke, Michiko Kakutani has published in today's New York Times a new review, in her same old inimitable style, of "A. M. Homes's dreadful new novel," This Book Will Save Your Life. Homes's book may very well be dreadful, but it almost goes without saying that Kakutani's review of it features some familiar entries from the out-of-print reference work (Substandard Idiom for the Reviewer on a Deadline) that her editors bought her on the cheap.

She starts off her latest inning with a double to left field:

"hokey, hackneyed and New Agey"
-- hokey, stage-managed ending (A MAN IN FULL, Tom Wolfe)
-- hokey movie melodrama (THE EGYPTOLOGIST, Arthur Phillips)
-- hokey melodrama (THE TATTOOED GIRL, Joyce Carol Oates)
-- hokey characters and story line (MIDDLE AGE, Joyce Carol Oates)
-- hokey B-movie contrivance (THE STRANGER AT THE PALAZZO D'ORO, Paul Theroux)
-- hokey, contrived story line (COSMOPOLIS, Don DeLillo)
-- hokey and contrived (BECH AT BAY, John Updike)
-- hokey and contrived (RESERVATION ROAD, John Burnham Schwartz)
-- contrived, hokey situations (NINE WOMEN, Shirley Ann Grau)

(and dozens more)

-- hackneyed and contrived (BROOKLYN BOY, Alan Lelchuk)
-- hackneyed story line (THE BOOK OF FAMOUS IOWANS, Douglas Bauer)
-- hackneyed historical observations (DAUGHTER OF FORTUNE, Isabel Allende)

(and more)

As a bonus, there's this heavy addition to the Kakutani lexicon:

"phony, leaden-footed rendition of spiritual uplift"
-- leaden-footed brand of naturalism (THE INFINITE PLAN, Isabel Allende)
-- leaden-footed futuristic satire (THE SLYNX, Tatyana Tolstaya)
-- flat-footed and leaden (THE HALDEMAN DIARIES, H. R. Haldeman)
-- leaden and earthbound (SANTA EVITA, Tomas Eloy Martinez)
-- clunky, leaden novel (PARADISE, Toni Morrison)

And don't even get me started on Kakutani's maltreatment of the word phony.

We also learn that Home's "novel is written in flat, listless prose that makes everything the characters say sound like an unalloyed cliche." When it comes to flat, listless prose and cliches, Kakutani knows of what she speaks. But I may have to spend the next few days determining how to distinguish a plain old cliche from a genuinely unalloyed one.