Sunday, July 16, 2006

I scream helps the hurt

I was saddened to read an embarrassingly bad article by Colson Whitehead in the New York Times Sunday Magazine today. Although his recent novel Apex Hides the Hurt received some lukewarm reviews, I never suspected someone with his talent could fall so far so fast.

Mine is the story of a man who hates ice cream and of the world that made him.

I was once like you, always quick with a “Two scoops, please” and a “Whipped cream, damn it, whipped cream!” I loved a Breyers vanilla-chocolate-strawberry rectangle straight from the freezer. Never mind if it was a bit long in the tooth, nestled in there next to a half-empty bag of carrots-and-peas medley — scrape off the icy fur and it was good to go. Orange sherbet? Cool. In Baskin-Robbins, I used pure will power to persuade the red digital lights of the Now Serving machine to announce my number, which was a sweat-smudged blob on the pink paper strip in my quivering hand.

That reads like something a high school girl would write for the school newspaper.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be so critical? It’s not easy to make a living as a serious writer, especially in New York. If the New York Times Sunday Magazine wanted me to write a cutesy article about ice cream, teddy bears, bobby sox, or whatever, I’d ask “how cutesy do you want it, ma’am?” as I bowed and scraped. But unlike chuckling, Whitehead has a position to defend. He is a novelist who everyone agrees has a lot of promise. He should do better.