Publisher's shagadelic response to New York Times pan


Craig Offman
June 29, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)

Like her colleague Maureen Dowd, New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani sometimes engages in a little critical ventriloquism. For her June 22 review of Ernest Hemingway's posthumously published novel "True at First Light," she imitated the author's oft-imitated sparse style; last year she used Ally McBeal as her mouthpiece to voice her feelings about Helen Fielding's "Bridget Jones' Diary."

On June 15, Kakutani really got her satirical mojo working with a naughty review of Jackie Collins' new novel, "Dangerous Kiss." Kakutani (who usually devotes her column inches to far more serious literature) couched her analysis in the language of Austin Powers, implying that like the time-warped spy from Britain, the novel, by the British-born author of "Hollywood Wives," is stuck in a cartoonishly shagadelic landscape. "Everyone in Jackie's world is so busy wearing fabulous clothes and partying like it's 1969 that they don't know it's the '90s," Kakutani wrote.

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Ten days later the novel's publisher, Simon & Schuster, took out an ad for the book based on Kakutani's bad trip, and you would think that whoever thought it up was on some hallucinogens as well. "Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times raves," a psychedelic font announces, and the quotations that follow suggest that the book enjoyed Kakutani's awe if not exactly her approval: "Steady now, don't have a thrombo ... Jackie's No. 1 Bond girl Lucky Santangelo is pretty shagadelic herself ... one smashing baby, baby ... Am I right or am I right?"

There's no mistaking the sting of the review -- Kakutani had come out swinging (and not in the Austin Powers sense, baby). "Free love still reigns in Jackie Land: people are still having promiscuous sex with many anonymous partners without protection, while at the same time experimenting with mind-expanding drugs in a consequence-free environment," she observed in her opening paragraph, quoting the first "Austin Powers" movie. Then she climbed back into her time machine: "My bag exactly! ... None of this P.C. bull: what these chicks all want is a good-looking cat with a nice set of twig and berries."

What was S&S thinking? "The ad was created in the spirit of the review -- i.e., good fun," S&S publisher David Rosenthal told Salon Books.


Craig Offman

Craig Offman is the New York correspondent for Salon Books.

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