Ms. Gessen’s, Blood Matters, is a history and memoir of BRCA1 genetic mutation.
(She would surely object as much as he to this breezy comparison; and to his credit, he has also translated politically charged material from Russia. Also, let the record reflect that while he did attend Harvard, he did so on a scholarship!)
But. From Dave Eggers to Jonathan Safran Foer to Dana Vachon to Joshua Ferris to Jeff Hobbs to Charles Bock to Mr. Gessen, JT Leroy outdid them all. And he was a lady. And a bona fide nutjob.
Why can’t men write anymore? Why is Christopher Hitchens, a man who will seize upon any idea that causes a slight shock to build a book around, a prominent nonfiction writer of our time? Things are different now.
“What is peculiar to our time is a habit of disparagement, persisted in with a kind of obsessiveness that seems like rigor. We go to the shopping mall,” wrote Marilyn Robinson in The New York Times in 1985. (That was written so long ago that it does not appear on the Internet, and therefore there are no Google results at all for the essay’s excellent phrase “a dark night of the prole.”)
“In Amerika,” Andrea Dworkin wrote two years later, “there is the nearly universal conviction—or so it appears—that sex (fucking) is good and that liking it is right. …”
But these two facts have collided, with terrible results, since the delicious mid-’80s. The American desire for fucking has become, locally, the Brooklyn-based or -bound desire for a book deal and a brownstone. Men, finding that they cannot really get status or security from the ownership of women very often, find their very selves disparaged. Like most of us, they get their status first from consumption, and the way out is to become a maker of consumables; a high-class published author. And they are bewildered, I think, because their bewilderment shows in books that try to understand class and economic conditions even as they are being happily further ensnared by them. Their books read as if this were the first time they’d ever thought of all this.
Ms. Robinson—This may be apocryphal! It was relayed by a (male!) former student of hers—apparently lost the only manuscript of Housekeeping not once but twice, at least one of those times in a women’s bathroom. Not one of these boys would survive that.