We expect vicious anti-Trump bias on CNN and MSNBC and other so-called news outlets. We can choose to tune in or not (I choose not; the bile and misinformation there is too pervasive). What gets to me is the anti-Trump infection that is now unavoidable because it has spread throughout our culture, rotting late-night TV (and comedy overall), daytime TV (exhibit A: “The View”), on-campus dialogue, editorial pages, fashion magazines, entertainment publishing, the film industry, most of the music industry, and just about everything else. Some sort of slam at Trump is now essentially obligatory. I now include...(drum roll, please)...detective novels. And articles about detective novels.
Now, I love detective novels and am a particular fan of ‘40s-and-’50s-era film noir, but I admit I haven’t read THE FERAL DETECTIVE, the eleventh novel by Jonathan Lethem. Dallas Morning News culture critic Chris Vognar tells me all I need to know about this book, though, in his December 9 article about Lethem and his approach to the story that uses extensive quotes from the author. It has inspired me to slip into my own role as “culture critic” and reiterate how sick I am of seeing Trump-hatred turning up EVERYWHERE.
As Lethem tells it, he was blithely starting work on his new novel when something unexpected happened: Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election. Suddenly, he just didn’t care about writing any more: “How could I possibly begin that book, or any book, today?” What would be the point of going on? What could he do? The only way he could continue was to make the protagonist of his story, Phoebe, “the perfect vessel” for his own “sadness and rage.” He assumed Phoebe would be even more outraged “because she was a woman.” Over coffee with Vognar in New York, he said, “She [Phoebe] had something like my female friends’ and my wife’s sensation, that this was in their faces and pulling the rug out from under their idealism about human beings and gender even more violently than I personally felt.”
As I say more and more often these days, give me a break. Obviously, Lethem is assessing the views of all women by looking at his wife’s leftist New York friends.
Vognar explains, “Phoebe...serves as Lethem’s voice of political distress. She has left her job with the New York Times, largely because the editorial board agreed to meet with Trump.” Or, as the character refers to him, “the Beast-Elect.” So, this character actually leaves her job with the NYT because her superiors at a NEWSPAPER are going to take a meeting with the future President of the United States. Considering that she then partners with a “gumshoe” to help solve a case, I have to ask: how can Phoebe, with her mindless anger, reflexive responses, confirmation bias and closed-mindedness, possibly make a good detective?
“THE FERAL DETECTIVE,” Vognar writes, “...is a work of what will eventually be categorized as Trump-era fiction...[The book] offers a cockeyed meditation on lost ideals and age-old hostilities drawn across gender lines..[it’s about] an angry woman on a mission. And a desert full of lost ideals.”
We’re deluged with hyperbole such as this today because Donald Trump won the election against Hillary Clinton –- a woman, but an eminently unlikable, dishonest and secretive woman who has skirted laws for many years in a variety of ways that would put you and me in prison. I (along with most people who lean right) would love to see a woman ascend to the Presidency, but not that woman, no way in the world. I’m willing to put up with Trump’s cringe-worthy tweets if that’s what it takes to keep that woman and her cronies --- male, female, whatever --- away from power. And I’m sick of encountering tripe like this that assumes I, as a woman, must be upset that she lost. On the contrary, I'm relieved. Maybe it’s time to write just one novel that reflects that, although I imagine it would have to be self-published.