May 10, 2003


I'VE READ IT: New York Times reporters aren't the only ones who can thwart Simon & Schuster's steath marketing strategy by finding copies of Stephen Glass's new book, The Fabulist, ahead of the release date. My local bookstore put it out too early, too. The result is a freelanced review that will probably appear next week, but to whet your appetite, here are some details that probably won't make it into that piece for lack of space:

At the beginning of the novel, Glass's narrator (also named Stephen Glass) opines that some journalists think he should be ashamed and afraid forever for his offense (the same offense that the real Stephen Glass committed). "Because they are liberals, and have faith in rehabilitation, they never speak of it that way, but I believe they feel it profoundly."

There's that phrase, "they are liberals," tossed off so matter-of-factly. What would Dan Rather say?

Much of the book is very good, particularly the authentic-feeling descriptions of anxiety. Though unlike the narrator I've never had a problem with lying (in fact, I hate direct lying, and go to great lengths to avoid it), I have struggled with an anxiety disorder, and some of these passages literally had me reaching for my medication.

When the narrator confesses to his parents, they at first don't believe the scandal a big deal. Their son tries to explain that it is a big deal to journalists, and they'll cover it a lot, but the parents believe that no one will care-- until they realize that Stephen's girlfriend has told her mother, "a huge yenta," and now everyone in their cross-country social circle will know. Says the narrator:

She was right, of course. All the Jewish suburbs splattered across the country-- Lakeside, South Orange, Highland Park, Shaker Heights, Whitefish Bay, Scottsdale, West Bloomfield, Scarsdale, Potomac, just to name a few-- are impossibly interconnected, as if by underground tunnels. As children, we went to overnight camp with kids from the other suburbs. We saw them again in college, and after we graduated, we ended up marrying them. And then, when our kids came, we were supposed to move out of the cities we lived in, and into still another one of these suburbs. Life would become a series of holiday commutes: Rosh Hashanah in Lakeside, Passover in Potomac, Thanksgiving in Shaker Heights. Winter vacations, when possible, were to be spent seeing grandparents in Fort Lauderdale, which seemed to be the final stop on the tunnels' route.
I come from this world, and I tend to think this is overstating the case; I grew up in Highland Park, Illinois, and I went to camp with kids from Shaker Heights, Ohio, but I have no idea what they're up to now. Tabins from my father's and my generation don't tend to marry people from other Jewish suburbs-- if the spouses are Jewish at all, it's usually because they converted-- but I don't think this phenomenom is peculiar to our family; last I heard, the rate of intermarriage is about 50%.

The point of this bit of hyperbole (or poetic license, if you prefer) is, I gather, to show how the only important thing to a person is what's going on in his own world-- by implication, only journalists really care about the Stephen Glass scandal, just as anyone cares only about the gossip from his own social circle. Interestingly, the NYT piece contains this corroborating nugget:

Daniel Goldin, a buyer at the Harry W. Schwartz Booksellers, a chain in Milwaukee, said he ordered four copies of the book for each store. He said that learning the identity of the author did not much affect his view of the book, since few people outside the media business remember Mr. Glass. He said he was not concerned that "I am going to get caught too short of copies."
I'll probably have more of these nuggets here when I think of them. Glass will be on 60 Minutes tomorrow.

Posted by John Tabin at May 10, 2003 05:46 PM