--Sam Chafos, in a letter to the editor (see Letters, p. 6)
That is quite a lengthy parenthetical, Mr. Chafos, and by the way, it's kind of bullshit. You are "concerned"? In this letter, Mr. Chafos is referring to my review last week of Jonathan Safran Foer's new novel, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close ["Everything Is Obliterated," April 14], which I described as "funny, and extremely tender, and incredibly brave." Mr. Chafos disagreed with my review "almost entirely," he writes elsewhere, but oddly that's not what his letter is about. His beef is that I openly criticized Michiko Kakutani's negative review of Foer's book.
Kakutani is the most famous fulltime book reviewer in the country, certainly one of the most influential, and obviously one of the meanest. She hits the things she doesn't like with a lot more glee than she praises the things she does like. She almost always hates writers' second novels. She unfailingly compares teenage narrators to Holden Caulfield (she does this as if he were a template for all teenage characters, and she does it even when the subject of the comparison isn't even a teenager yet, as is the case with Foer's narrator). Her negative reviews aren't so much negative as spiteful. She relies on the same ridiculous words constantly ("limn," "verve," "pretentious," etc.). And her observations about books are notably repetitive. (In her review she mentioned Foer's "psychological acuity"; in her review of Ian McEwan's Saturday she praised the author's "acute psychological portrait" of a character; in her review of Jonathan Lethem's The Fortress of Solitude she called attention to the "acuity" of the author's "psychological observations," and so on.) Kakutani is a critic I have historically admired, but increasingly her reviews sound like they're generated by a computer program.
And anyway, Mr. Chafos, Kakutani is the original hater. It's kind of funny to see someone rushing to her defense, as if she were defenseless. She called Foer's book "cloying," "precious and forced," "contrived and improvisatory, schematic and haphazard," and "mannered and irritating." I call those fighting words from one of the most mannered and irritating critics around.