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Arts and Letters


Upon the publication of Lucky Girls, author-to-be Curtis Sittenfeld evaluates the Nell Freudenberger backlash for Salon. I knew Nell decently well in college and, although I haven’t read her full book yet (I just ordered it, and expect to attend the reading tonight), I suspect Sittenfeld is right in noting (however snarkily) that the literary grousing in certain circles has more to do with frightful envy than with Nell’s ostensible luck. Whether or not she fell into good fortune with the New Yorker story, it’s pretty clear to all who meet her that Nell is not only smart and talented but also remarkably down-to-earth, and I very sincerely doubt she would have escaped notice for long. In sum, she earned her big break, and most of those who’d think otherwise are just trafficking in sour grapes.

Update: The Complete Review, cited in the Sittenfeld piece (and this entry) as backlash central (and an otherwise compelling source of literary info, as far as I can tell), responds to the Freudenberger furor, in part by complaining about my “typically American sense of entitlement.” (Continentals, it seems, appreciate much better the formative value of laboring away in penury and obscurity for years – no silver platters for them!) I don’t particularly want to get in a flame war with another site about something as unoffending as Nell’s success — why begrudge her this moment? Nevertheless, two points:

1) The Saloon claims they must continue to harp on Freudenberger because the hits and search-requests demand it, which anyone who keeps a weblog knows is disingenuous. If site content was dictated by search requests, I’d be posting essays on “Sex Machines” and “WTC Ghosts” every week.

2) I think the Saloon does clarify their position to where there’s an inkling of point to be had: “The big issue we’ve had, from the first, with Freudenberger, and the reason we’ve harped on her case so is that she got a fat contract (two, actually, one from Ecco/HarperCollins and one from Picador UK) without having written practically anything.” The doling out of literary contracts is clearly an important state-of-the-industry issue that deserves coverage and note by journals like the Saloon. But, again, arguing that Nell isn’t receiving undue condemnation from the Saloon and other outlets because she’s “pretty and went to Harvard” is also disingenuous. After all, I don’t see the Saloon publishing fake dialogues entitled, “Whoa Jon Foer!,” and critiquing his back-of-the-book sartorial sense. (Full Disclosure: Jon’s brother Frank is a friend and former colleague of mine, and I personally wouldn’t hold Foer’s success against him either – there’s that sense of entitlement again.) In sum, the Saloon can argue good intentions all the live-long day, but it’s pretty clear from the levels of snark exhibited in their Freudenberger posts that the site’s opprobium for her reflects less wholesome motives than dispassionate, just-the-facts-ma’am coverage of the literary scene. Schadenfreudenberger, perhaps?

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