How Not To Write a Book Review

by Isaac Chotiner | September 28, 2009

In Slate today, Peter D. Kramer has a very strange review of Richard Powers' new novel, Generosity. Kramer begins as follows:

Novels can suffer from bad timing, and here I mean not in plot arc or prose rhythm but in the relationship of their publication dates to current events. I know this truth from experience. My only novel concerns a thoughtful anarchist who communicates with those he loves through blowing up buildings. It appeared to mostly good notices in August 2001; after Sept. 11, the book was all but undiscussable.

This might be excusable if it was the only instance of Kramer's solipsism, but things get progressively worse. Generosity appears to be about happiness and genetic enhancement, which gives Kramer the opportunity to add:

In Against Depression (2005), I wrote that the Science report had "raised eyebrows on a number of grounds," and I expressed doubts that the finding of absolute stress immunity would hold up.

Okay, I thought, he has now mentioned two of his books. Of the second book, he adds, "In Against Depression, I made what I hope is a complex argument about the association of melancholy and literary creativity..." Enough already, you might be thinking--just review the damn book. Alas, Kramer only has this to say:

It's a problem for Generosity that in the field of enhancement, the medical ethics literature is so strong that it reads like accomplished science fantasy. Look, for example, at Carl Elliott's Better Than Well (for which I wrote an introduction) or at the theoretical contributions, my own aside, in the anthology he helped edit, Prozac as a Way of Life. There you'll find philosophers assessing neuropsychiatric research in detail and using it, often in playful fashion, to construct thought experiments that frame precise critical questions...

Uncle!

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