In the film Bull Durham, Susan Sarandon’s character asks Kevin Costner’s character what he believes. Costner delivers a lengthy, not-entirely-safe-for-work riff that includes the line, “I believe the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap.”
This week’s lit question:
What author’s novels would you classify as “self-indulgent, overrated crap”?
My first choice would have to be J.D. Salinger. I will cop to a certain bias against authors who write about people I want to slap (F. Scott Fitzgerald, I’m looking at you), and I can’t think of a literary character more deserving of a hot date with the back of my hand than the intolerably whiny Holden Caulfield … but that’s not my only issue with Salinger. After all, most of Jack Kerouac’s characters righteously deserve a right hook to the jaw, too, yet Kerouac’s writing is so brilliant that I’m willing to put up with insufferable wastrels like Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise for a few hundred pages in exchange for the pleasure of basking in their creator’s prose. If Salinger could paint word-pictures like Kerouac or draw me into his world like William Faulkner, I might be willing to put up with his obnoxious brat for a few chapters.
The problem with Salinger is twofold: First, he doesn’t have the poetic brilliance of Kerouac or the immediacy of Faulkner, and second, Faulkner himself couldn’t live up to the hype that’s surrounded Salinger as a result of his eccentricity and his perennial presence on the banned books list.
Don’t get me wrong: I think it’s marvelous when authors win the censorship lottery. Few things delight me more than watching somebody land on the bestseller list as a direct result of some idiot’s attempt to censor him. Salinger’s popularity is a victory for the Constitution. Freedom 1, Dumbassery 0. Sweet. But that doesn’t make Salinger a literary giant. It just makes him a very, very lucky man who happened to sprinkle a few well-placed (and, IMHO, suspiciously phoney-sounding) goddams into an otherwise unremarkable manuscript at an extremely opportune moment.
Bravo for him, but really: The Catcher in the Rye is hopelessly overrated, and while I think Salinger was a marketing genius, I could name any number of authors whose literary gifts leave his in the dust.
What author do you consider overrated?