Sunday, January 29, 2006

laughs: garrison keillor feigns outrage, unloads on bernard-henri levy

One of our nation's leading stereotypographers, Garrison Keillor, took up the pen in defense of America this Sunday in his review of Bernard-Henri Levy's American Vertigo for the New York Times Book Review.

How insulting, M. Keillor raged, that a Frenchman hired by The Atlantic Monthly to wander through America in search of something to write about should discover. . .oddness! Mardi Gras! Stock car racing! Mega-churches! The Mall of America! Mount Rushmore! Stuff that makes for good magazine articles! Quelle horreur!

Reacting like a polemicist confronted with another practitioner, he expresses outrage at Levy's shallow view of Americans, his fondness of the phrase "as always in America", and especially Levy's "childlike love of paradox". Yawn.

Would that M. Levy had instead settled into a seat at a diner in Ypsilanti to interview auto workers, or gone to run errands with Mrs. Krepalik, he might have drunk deep of the "real America", the one that M. Keillor embodies.

Here's my take on the whole sorry affair. What M. Keillor is angling for is the opportunity to go to France to "return the favor". Because anyone who ends a "review" with. . .
Thanks for coming. Don't let the door hit you on the way out. For your next book, tell us about those riots in France, the cars burning in the suburbs of Paris. What was that all about? Were fat people involved?
. . .isn't making a statement, he's offering an invitation. Wouldn't it just be delicious to read about the adventures of a pasty, garrulous old guy from Minnesota schlepping through the Auvergne looking for alcoholics, angry busdrivers and closet royalists?

Close your eyes - can't you see him "getting down" with some fourth-generation French of Algerian descent talking about soccer? Or wandering through Les Halles raging about how skinny the French are despite their abominable dietary habits? Or grumbing about how "undemocratic" it is that French stores can only hold sales twice a year?

I bet the phone is ringing in Lake Woebegon Right Now with details of an eight-week bus tour, a serialized travelogue, a book deal and, as the pinnacle, a TV special with both Mssrs. Keillor and Levy visiting "the real America/France" with the other in tow. You can smell the excitement at NPR already. Touche, wabbit!

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