Tag Archives: literary oddities

Rotten Reviews: The American Way of Death

(For reasons I can’t entirely explain, I have always found The Mitford Family interesting, particularly Jessica and Nancy. Jessica’s famous [or infamous, if you subscribe to the ideas of the eminent American politician quoted below] book, which I’ve yet to read, The American Way of Deathis an expose of the funeral industry in the United States. It is of a type with Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One, an excoriating satire of the funeral industry in Los Angeles. Incidentally, The Loved One was also produced as a film in 1965 and is simply a masterpiece, e.g. the casting of Liberace as a coffin salesman was particularly inspired).

“While hiding behind the commercial aspects of the mortician and the cemeteries and mausoleums where our dear departed friends and relatives are commemorated, she is really striking another blow at the Christian religion. Her tirade against morticians is simply the vehicle to carry her anti-Christ attack… I would rather place my mortal remains, alive or dead, in the hands of any American mortician than to set foot on the soil of any Communist nation.”

Congressman James B. Utt, Congressional Record

Excerpted from: Barnard, Andre, and Bill Henderson, eds. Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews and Rejections. Wainscott, NY: Pushcart Press, 1998.

Rotten Reviews: Miss Lonelyhearts

“A knowledge of its contents will be essential to conversational poise in contemporary literature during the next three months—perhaps.”

Boston Evening Transcript

Excerpted from: Barnard, Andre, and Bill Henderson, eds. Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews and Rejections. Wainscott, NY: Pushcart Press, 1998.

Rotten Reviews: Candide

“It seems to have been written by a creature of nature wholly different from our own, indifferent to our lot, rejoicing in our sufferings, and laughing like a demon or an ape at the misery of the human race with which he has nothing in common.”

Mme de Stael, DeL’Allemagne

Excerpted from: Barnard, Andre, and Bill Henderson, eds. Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews and Rejections. Wainscott, NY: Pushcart Press, 1998.

Rotten Rejections: Zuleika Dobson, by Max Beerbohm

(It’s worth noting here that this novel, a satire of undergraduate life at Oxford, is included in Modern Library’s List of the 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century in the English Language (it’s number 59). At the time of the list’s publication, I recall many critics remarking that for this type of academic satire, Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis or The Groves of Academe by Mary McCarthy would have been better choices.

“I do not think it would interest us. The author is more highly esteemed by himself than by anyone else, and has never reached any high standard in his literary work.”

Excerpted from: Barnard, Andre, and Bill Henderson, eds. Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews and Rejections. Wainscott, NY: Pushcart Press, 1998.

Rotten Reviews: Julius Caesar

”There is not a single sentence uttered by Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar that is, I will not say worthy of him, but worthy of an average Tammany boss.”

George Bernard Shaw, Saturday Review

Excerpted from: Barnard, Andre, and Bill Henderson, eds. Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews and Rejections. Wainscott, NY: Pushcart Press, 1998.

Rotten Rejections: Julia Child, et al

Rotten Rejections: Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child, Simone Beck, and Louisette Bertholle.

“What we envisage as saleable…is perhaps a series of small books devoted to particular portions of the meal…. We also feel that such a series should meet a rigorous standard of simplicity and compactness, certainly less elaborate than your present volumes, which, although we are sure are foolproof, are undeniably demanding in the time and focus of the cook, who is so apt to be a mother, nurse, chauffeur, and cleaner as well.”

“…It is a big, expensive cookbook of elaborate information and might well prove formidable to the American housewife. She might easily clip one of these recipes but be frightened by the book as a whole.”

Excerpted from: Barnard, Andre, and Bill Henderson, eds. Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews and Rejections. Wainscott, NY: Pushcart Press, 1998.

Rotten Reviews: Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh

“Mr. Waugh displays none of the elan that distinguishes the true satirist from the caricaturist. For all its brilliance the writing lacks vitality. The invention is tired, and effects are too often got by recourse to the devices of slapstick exaggeration.”

Dudley Fitts, The Nation

Excerpted from: Barnard, Andre, and Bill Henderson, eds. Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews and Rejections. Wainscott, NY: Pushcart Press, 1998.