Ellmann on Prose

Lucy Ellmann (Man or Mango; Dot in the Universe) concludes her review of Francine Prose’s A Changed Man with a quote from E.E. Cummings: “There is some shit I will not eat.” According to Ellmann, the novel amounts to a “witless fable” symptomatic of contemporary life and outlook in these United States.

American sentimentality may once have seemed endearing, but now we know it’s just another instrument of evil. Every aspect of American culture has begun to stink of the grave. The pizzas and hamburgers: this is how world tyrants fuel themselves. The cars, the drugs, the music, the TV: this is how they distract themselves from their crimes. But how can they still think they’re right about anything? Their children are deep-fried, drug-soaked numbskulls, the adults hapless lemmings in their SUVs, heading straight into the back-end of the American dream. Where is the guilt – and where the apology?

You won’t get one from Francine Prose. Reading her is like going on an anthropological excursion into the heart of that darkness. The horror of it is not just that she seems to go along with the suburban-commuter lifestyle she depicts, but that she concludes, from her tale of neo-Nazi woe, that everyone is basically good, or at least redeemable. It’s Panglossian! Her faith in America and the essential innocence of its inhabitants turns what could have been a challenging read into a witless fable for our times. What’s more, it all has to happen in the present tense: Americans have no past.

(Via The Reading Experience.)


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