Back Talk | Books | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Published January 19, 2000 at 9:01 p.m.

WAR OF THE WORDS? Paul Theroux and

V.S. Naipaul duked it out for years. More recently,

Tom Wolfe and John Irving took a turn in the writers’ ring. But the latest literary feud, according to Salon magazine, is between Middlebury author Jay Parini and John Updike. The online magazine alleges Parini’s somewhat stinging December review of a John Updike book was compromised by sour grapes. The story goes like this: Parini had reviewed several Updike works — and not all favorably — before the New Yorker asked Updike to review Parini’s biography of Robert Frost last winter. Updike praised Parini for “some nice phrases,” but faulted him for a “a certain blandness, even lameness, of style.” Six months later, London’s Times asked Parini to review Updike’s More Matter: Essays and Criticism. Parini took the assignment without disclosing his recent frosting by Updike, raising questions about a potential conflict of interest. In the Times Literary Supplement, Parini acknowledged Updike as the “prodigal phrasemaker,” but added, “with so much intelligence and linguistic richness at his disposal, his criticism is largely inconsequential.” Salon put two and two together and called Parini’s London editor to get a reaction. Caught off-guard, Alan Jenkins pled ignorance, adding, “I think this is a severe lapse in reviewer integrity, a severe one. I won’t be using Jay Parini as a reviewer again.” According to Parini, Jenkins will not get the chance. He says his days as a book reviewer are “pretty much” over. “What has this ‘review culture’ come to when the slightest criticism raises hackles?” says Parini, noting he “bent over backwards” to be generous to Updike in his review. “Updike doesn’t give a damn, and I don’t give a damn. It was just this little editor at Salon looking for a story,” he says. As for readers, they should probably be more concerned about glowing reviews rendered suspect not because the writers are enemies, but friends...

TIME LINES: Burlington artist Barbara Zucker has something to smile about — and the resulting crows’ feet are an integral part of it. She is one of 50 women — along with Yoko Ono, Louise Bourgeois, Elizabeth Murray and New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast — getting national exposure in a self-portrait show at the DC Moore gallery in New York City. Curated by Judith Stein, “The Likeness of Being” makes a powerful statement about the way women see themselves. Zucker definitely got into it, offering a wall sculpture cast from her own wrinkles. Zucker invites viewers see the lines of age as tributaries, cracks in the ice or other abstract “patterns that belong to the earth.” Beautiful, in other words. And her ultimate goal is a feminist one. “I am also trying to give dignity to something that is difficult to deal with.” Along with her own aging, Zucker is also memorializing the wrinkles of heroic women such as Rosa Parks, Georgia O’Keefe, lsak Dineson and Golda Meir in a body of work she calls “Universal Lines.”

IN BRIEF: Reviewer John Strausbaugh does concede that “having a story collection published these days is in itself an accomplishment.” But he goes on to lacerate Scar Vegas, and Charlotte author Tom Paine, in last week’s New York Press. Declaring the short story “dead,” he goes on to pontificate: “Nobody outside a small circle of sensitive Ivy Leaguers who graduated to Yaddo instead of a brokerage or law firm takes it seriously.” Paine is pilloried for his literary pedigree, his “dreadful” fictional voice, “based on observations from too great a distance to be convincing to anyone who doesn’t spend too much time on game preserves like Yaddo and Princeton and Middlebury and Harper’s.” Strausbaugh even goes after his author photo — “longhaired, cheekboned, like a cross between a surfer dude and the guy who played guitar in the Saturday Night Live band.” Ouch. But hey, what doesn’t kill you... There were obvious risks for Essex author Tim Brookes in “Rediscovering America.” The results of his second cross-country hitchhiking trip, and accompanying photos by Tomasz Tomaszewski, are published in the current issue of National Geographic. Brookes set out thumbing to update his impressions of America. His maiden voyage, as a young road-ready British expat, was more than 25 years ago. That Geographic bought a “writer-driven” story on spec was unusual, to say the least. Unfortunately, the resulting piece lacks the gritty authenticity of a true, down-at-the-thumbs travelogue. And the photographer took his own route, and car, so the images do not illustrate the text. Best hold out for the long version. Brooke’s book about the trip is due out in July.