Some of my work on Updike was discussed on The Dish with Andrew Sullivan.
Some of my work on Ross Macdonald was discussed on Pretty Sinister Books.
Here is my interview with superstar music impresario Wendy Starland.
Here is my interview with Pulitzer Prize nominee Olympia Vernon.
Here is my interview with the editor of Best American Short Stories, Heidi Pitlor.
Here is my interview with acclaimed artist Emil Kazaz.
My musing on John D. Macdonald, Travis McGee, and the chicks was picked up on The Rap Sheet.

Christopher Robinson and Gavin Kovite: War of the Encyclopaedists



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Right off the bat I can supply three reasons to like this novel: 1) it skewers Wikipedia; 2) it aims for the grand scale, but with a sense of proportion (too often fiction about whatever happens to be the most recent American military activity virtually begs you to accept and knowledge me as a MAJOR STATEMENT; there’s nothing of that kind here); and 3) it contains a vocabulary word none of us have ever seen before in our lives, “coprophagous”.
These are just some quick notes:
I always feel a little awed by people who have served in the military – whether they’ve gone to war or not – because I have to acknowledge that they’ve made sacrifices and acquired discipline that is totally absent from my own personal experience, and I think a lot of us feel that way.  One person who doesn’t, and can’t, is a principal here, Halifax Corderoy, whose best friend Mickey Montauk is about to ship out for Iraq as the story begins.  Partial reflections of each other (they both become involved with the same two women), the story is largely about how both Corderoy and Montauk lie, and are lied to.
Indeed, lying is one of the central themes of the book.   Corderoy’s girlfriend, Mani, lies repeatedly; so does Ali Gorma, a translator in Montauk’s unit in Iraq. Corderoy gets scammed online by a potential love interest. Local Iraqis that come to see Montauk about a certain matter lie endlessly about what they know and see, one after the other.  Montauk and Mani unite to display to the world what is not, in the strict technical sense, a lie although both we and they know it is a serious lie of the heart.  When Montauk puts out a silly bounty and a punk in his unit called Monkey claims to have met the criteria to earn the cash, we know that’s a lie too.  Corderoy lies to Mani about his school and employment situation.  Luc, an agenda driven journalist, lies to Tricia Burnham (the fourth major character along with Mani, Montauk, and Corderoy) about the extent and content of his Rolodex. 
All these lies, of course, have consequences.  Truth, such as it exists, is more revealed than stated, as in the passages where Mani’s art finally begins to come to fruition and she sells some of her paintings to a gallery, solidifying the second theme of the book which is art-in-exhibition.  The novel opens with a descriptive riff about how Corderoy and Montauk began their series of themed parties with a mock art show.  Later, at an exhibition, Corderoy drunkenly damages an installation right in front of the artist who created it.  If I’m not mistaken, since we can’t quote the text just yet, modern art is referred to a few times as having an arbitrary character while John Singer Sargent is regarded with highest reverence.
Which  leads to another motif, the differences between Mani and Tricia and why and how two men such as Montauk and Corderoy could both be attracted to such different women.  Perhaps a key to this can be found in two passages that occur one right after the other – Tricia has a nosebleed all over Montauk while they have sex and, in the very next scene, Mani has her period alone in her bed, too burnt out to even attend to it.  The use of the symbol of blood to tie the two women to each other is both ingenious and ingeniously operated here.
Which leads to how nicely the two authors seem to work together.  They choose to employ the methodology of metafiction quite often: footnotes, visually reproduced Wikipedia pages, drawings of the female anatomy, reproduced US Army report documents, etc.  Every reader has to decide for themselves if they like the stamp of the author crashing onto the pages this way – not everyone is silky smooth like John Fowles with this particular storytelling strategy.  I think it works most particularly well here in the scenes set in Iraq, which are generally of a very high caliber.
That’s kind of related to another theme of the work, the semi-insanity of academia and the academic analysis of literature.  You may or may not pick up on this depending on what you think about a professor providing Paul de Man style analysis of Star Wars, but I found it really funny. 
One minor complaint: both Boston and Seattle just drip and ooze their own unique flavor, their own character – that’s not exploited here at all, except for one sentence that compares rainfall in the two.  Perhaps we could have gotten some more indulgence in metropolitan atmosphere. 
In my view this is a very good novel.  Its particular strength for me is that, while it’s not go-for-broke comedy like Catch 22, it keeps a healthy sense of humor about some of the very serious subjects it examines.  It is willing to take all kinds of chances, following its heart all the way, and contains at least one passage that will make every feminist zealot in the Western World cry out in protest.  I was also very impressed with the way the authors handle politics and the differences the various characters have in their political views.  This is the kind of fiction that could easily have collapsed into something like the Barefoot, Bible Waving Hicks from Appalachia vs. The Wild Eyed, Frothing at the Mouth Moonbats from the University of Political Correctness.  That it doesn’t do that is a testament to one of its many strong suits.



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