One-Minute Book Reviews

December 14, 2013

What I’m Reading … James Wolcott’s Comic Novel, ‘The Catsitters’

Filed under: Humor,Novels,What I'm Reading — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:40 pm
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“What I’m Reading” is a series that describes books I’m reading that I may or may not review on this blog

What I’m reading: The Catsitters (HarperPerennial, 2002), the first novel by James Wolcott, the longtime cultural sharpshooter at Vanity Fair.

What it is: A light comedy about the romantic misadventures of an unmarried man in Manhattan before the hookup culture rolled in. Narrator Johnny Downs is a mild-mannered bartending actor who tries a desperate approach to finding love after being dropped by his latest his-and-run girlfriend: He takes advice by telephone from a friend in Georgia who, after spending her teenage years in New Jersey, blends “a Southern belle’s feminine wiles with a Northerner’s no-nonsense direct aim.” The title of the novel has a double meaning: It refers to the caretakers for Johnny’s beloved cat and to the women who eddy around a “cat” — as the Beats might have said — who hopes to turn himself into plausible husband material.

Why I’m reading it: I enjoyed Wolcott’s new Critical Mass: Four Decades of Essays, Reviews, Hand Grenades, and Hurrahs (Doubleday, 2013), a showcase for the virtues that have distinguished his work since his early days at the Village Voice: wit, moral courage, and a high style. That collection drew me back to this novel.

Quotes from the book: A priest describes an artistic sensibility he has observed in New York: “These days, any time I attend something cultural, I dread what might be in store. I don’t mind shock effects as much as I resent the notion that they’re  for my own good, to roust me out of my moral slumber. One thing I learned from my work as a military chaplain is that in real life, shock numbs people, and the worse the shock, the deeper the numbness. After a while, your response system shuts down.”

Furthermore: The Catsitters is, in some ways, Seinfeld-ian: It involves a nice New York man caught up in day-to-day mini-dramas — not turbo-charged conflicts — and abounds with witty one-liners and repartee, such as:

“I can’t picture the men of Decatur, Georgia, handing out understated cream business cards.” “You’re right, they don’t. Most men down here introduce themselves by honking at intersections.”
“You’re fretting about the cost of dinner and flowers? You’re not adopting a pet from the animal shelter, Johnny, you’re in training to find a fiancée and future wife.”
“I don’t think I could handle a threesome.” “You’re not ready to handle a twosome yet.”
“Would you mind if I took off my shoes? My feet are about to cry.”
“We continued chatting, and by the time the train pulled into Baltimore I knew enough about her life to produce a documentary.”

Jan is a novelist and award-winning critic who has been the book columnist for Glamour and the book editor of the Plain Dealer. You can follow her on Twitter by clicking on the “Follow” button on this page.

© 2013 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved
www.janiceharayda.com

March 15, 2007

Grand Prize Winner 2007 Delete Key Awards: ‘Toxic Bachelors’ by Danielle Steel

The grand prize winner of the 2007 Delete Key Awards competition for the year’s worst writing in books is …

Toxic Bachelors by Danielle Steel

C’mon, you’re probably saying, this one was too easy. Sure, Danielle Steel writes at a fourth-grade level (technically, grade 4. 8), according to the readability statistics that are part of the spell-checker on Microsoft Word. But don’t we all know how bad her writing is? Not if you haven’t read Toxic Bachelors. You may not be surprised to hear that this novel has plenty of unintentionally comic lines like: “‘Yes,’ he said succinctly.” But it’s worse than you think.

Nobody expects social realism from Steel, but it’s still shocking to find Jews portrayed as monsters in this novel. Toxic Bachelors is about three men single men, each of whom represents a spiritual as well as social type. Charlie is WASP-y, Gray makes a religion of art, and Adam is Jewish. Guess which one has a weak father, a mother who is “a nagging bitch” and a spoiled sister? That’s right, Adam. His parents are cruel enough to make the Portnoys look like candidates for a lifetime achievement award from Parents magazine. And he has a special contempt for a sister who committed the ultimate sin: “She had never done anything with her life except get married and have children.”

Steel gets away with this because most critics have written her off and no longer review her. Why review somebody, the thinking goes, who writes only mindless romances? Toxic Bachelors presents an answer: If nobody holds her accountable, she’ll keep serving up nasty stereotypes, masquerading as a fairy tale.

Original review on One-Minute Book Reviews: Oct. 28, 2007, “Danielle Steel Gets Toxic,” archived with the October posts and in the “Novels” category.

The first and second runners-up were announced earlier today. The full short list appeared on Feb. 28 and the titles of books that received Honorable Mentions for the list on March 2. A list of questions and answers about the Delete Key Awards appeared on Feb. 27. All of these posts are archived with those of the month in which they appeared on One-Minute Book Reviews. Thank you for visiting this site.

Visit www.janiceharayda.com for information about the creator of the Delete Key Awards, Janice Harayda, a novelist and award-winning journalist has been the book columnist for Glamour, the book editor of the (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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