In what could be the biggest literary catfight since Lillian Hellman versus Mary McCarthy, The New Yorker’s Janet Malcolm has taken on New Yorker television critic Nancy Franklin, right there in the very pages of the magazine. The subject of their contretemps is a text we can all agree is one of extreme literary consequence: The Gossip Girl series.
You may remember that back in November, when Franklin reviewed the Greatest Show of Our Time in The New Yorker, she callously dismissed the original text, as crafted by Nightingale graduate author Cecily von Ziegesar. “I’ve been told that some kids in Manhattan’s private-school population resent the way they’ve been depicted in the show,” she wrote at the time, adding parenthetically, and cattily, ‘Or maybe they just want to distance themselves from a Nightingale graduate who can write a paragraph like this: “There was a box of orange Tic Tacs in her pocket with only one Tic Tac left. Serena fished the Tic Tac out and put it on her tongue, but she was so worried about her future, she could barely taste it.’”
Now, Janet Malcolm has revisited the series, and her review carries none of Franklin’s snideness. In fact, quite the opposite. The prose, she declares, is Nabokovian. The character of Nate “is a kind of Vronsky manqué.” Von Ziegesar’s “designated reader is an adolescent girl, but the reader she seems to have firmly in mind as she writes is a literate, even literary, adult.”
“Only someone very hard-hearted wouldn’t laugh” at the situations the characters find themselves in, she writes. “The way von Ziegesar implicates us in her empathic examination of youth’s callousness is the Waughish achievement of these strange, complicated books.”
Then, like any sharp-tongued lady of letters, she smooths things over with her colleague, only to plunge the knife straight into Nancy’s hard little heart:
The television series based on the “Gossip Girl” books was reviewed here by Nancy Franklin (November 26, 2007). I completely share Nancy’s (or should I say Nanci’s?) dim view of the adaptation. It is related to the original only in the names and outlines of the characters…Without von Ziegesar’s fast, mocking commentary to propel them, the TV episodes are sluggish and crass—a move from Barneys to Kmart.
Actually, wait, what? Nancy’s/Nanci’s? We don’t actually even understand what that means. Also, the TV show is sluggish and crass? Ouch. Maybe that was our hard little heart Malcolm stabbed.