Literary revenge is almost as old as literature itself. Evelyn Waugh paid back his first wife’s infidelities by making her the model for the appalling Lady Brenda Last in A Handful of Dust. Ernest Hemingway lampooned his old patron, Gertrude Stein, with one character’s tautlogical dialogue in For Whom the Bell Tolls. My esteem for John Katzenbach increased twelvefold when I learned that a group of imprisoned psychopaths in his serial-killer novel The Traveler were all named after his old editors at the Trenton Times. Reaching the bottom of the barrel, neocon eminence grise Norman Podhoretz devoted an entire book, Ex-Friends, to his tiffs with Norman Mailer, Lillian Hellman and Hannah Arendt, among others.
Even so, there is something tiresome and cheesy about Michael Crichton’s little jab at New Republic writer Michael Crowley, who incurred the author’s wrath with a March 20 cover story that handily demolished Crichton’s ludicrous novel State of Fear — you know, the one about how global warming is a scare story cooked up by a conspiracy of bloodthirsty environmentalists. As a bonus, Crowley charted Crichton’s decline from his early years as an honestly entertaining pop science fiction novelist (the guy writes about marauding dinosaurs and killer germs from outer space, so let’s call a spade a spade, shall we?) to the rather creepy pamphleteer who revived the Yellow Peril in Rising Sun and made sexual harassment out to be the work of predatory women in Disclosure. When President Bush, whose administration is notorious for trying to muzzle honest science on global warming, chose to have a chat on the subject with Crichton, director of not one but two killer-robot movies, it was a match made in hack heaven.
So Crichton tried to get even with Crowley in his new novel, Next, by giving a sound-alike name to a child molester. He seems to have forgotten Benjamin Franklin’s sage advice about not starting an argument with a man who buys ink by the barrel — or, in this case, pixels. All he’s managed to accomplish, it seems, is to remind people of how much fun it was to read Crowley’s old cover story. Shucks, instead of reading Next, I think I’ll pay for a TNR subscription and read Crowley’s piece again.
A man tries to get back at an enemy and ends up kicking himself in the ass. Sounds like a funny idea for a novel. Just don’t expect Michael Crichton to write that book — he’s living it.