The Acid Tongue
Tom Carson votes off Bill Clinton's My Life
Selected By Cyril Wong
Apropos of the coming US election, this is a quick blade of a piece. It was only too predictable that Bill Clinton’s offering received the criticism and derision it deserved. Tom Carson’s review, published in the September 2004 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, is full of arsenic and fatally concise. He starts first by attacking the publicity for Clinton’s book, references another bad book, as well as invokes famous dead actors:
Stopping short only of offering the first million customers free kazoos whittled from ex-First Dog Buddy's tibia, the publicity had us half believing we could fork over $35 and come away clutching the Clinton autobiography of our dreams—a star-spangled, crazily honking, wake-up-little-Souza combination of Baron Munchausen, Casanova's memoirs, The Sound and the Hillary, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. But even though the last of these was a clear inspiration for My Life's marketing, from the suspenseful buildup to the chimes-at-midnight rollout, one difference was that J. K. Rowling's fans could be reasonably sure they weren't buying an evasive account of Harry's adventures. Another was that virtually every copy sold of Goblet of Fire was promptly devoured cover to cover, which I feel safe assuming was not the case here—and not only because Clinton's dense 957 pages make Rowling's 734 look zippy. The blurb missing from the ads is what Laurence Olivier once wickedly said to Alec Guinness: "Marvelous, old cock! I never realized Malvolio could be played as a bore."
Carson’s second and concluding paragraph is a truly delicious ride. Eat on:
Predictably, the shrieker right looked at My Life and saw Kill Bill, Vol. 3. But if clamor-gal Ann Coulter's zeal to play Uma Thurman forced her to slog through every word, all I can say is that Bill has had a modest revenge for Whitewater. For less ideologically goaded readers, it was an act of heroic honesty on Knopf's part—and just plain heroism, given Clinton's last-minute delivery—to provide this book with an index. Decades from now, all those fading thumbprints alongside "Flowers, Gennifer" and "Lewinsky, Monica" will be of use in authenticating first editions, and only true sentimentalists will leave a similar smudge next to "Dole, Bob, 1996 election and."
It's almost as though the book (and the index) had to be done for the sake of being done. So in sympathy with that sentiment, we're not quoting the review in full unless someone can stump up for very expensive lawyers, but here's the last bit. Knock on wood!
QLRS Vol. 4 No. 1 Oct 2004
Even though the trees felled to produce it are enough to substantially alter his environmental record, Clinton's book was designed not so much to be read as to be an event's central prop; in more than one sense, we weren't really buying the story of his life. Rather, we were being offered a small chance to play spear carriers in an episode of it.
Better than Bush though? Drip acid in the Forum!
'The Acid Tongue' is a column that celebrates acerbic reviewing. Mail us if you know of any examples.
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