"St. Anna"

By Louis Bayard

Published January 19, 2001 8:50PM (EST)

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Louis Bayard's commentary on Anna Quindlen's latest book is another case of Salon's tiresome editorial propensity to give air to cynicism masquerading as critique.

Underlying Bayard's complaint is his proud discovery of the conspiracy of good feelings between alleged mind control artisans like Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey. But rather than take on Quindlen's little book on its own terms, Bayard offers a hysterical attack on a genre -- the confessions of "secular saints" -- that exists only by his own invention.

I read the book standing in a Barnes & Noble while I waited for my kid to use the restroom. It wasn't brilliant, but it didn't suck. It is a personal essay, for crying out loud. I don't see Quindlen trying to sell videos or birth a movement. And if Quindlen can get somebody to pay 15 bucks for a hardback edition of a magazine article, she should be congratulated.

If you don't like what she has to say, then deal with the text. But a critique by way of imaginary association with artificial representations of other public figures is more disingenuous than the make-believe cult leaders Bayard has taken to task.

There is plenty in Quindlen's body of writing that calls for correction. But as badly as Quindlen's work needs to be taken to task, it didn't happen here.

-- Scott Whisler

Is it just me, or is Louis Bayard's "St. Anna" unusually vitriolic toward those he considers "secular saints"? I found this article surprisingly vicious, especially considering that Anna Quindlen's new book is supposed to be just another piece of inspirational fluff. I myself don't like the media's worship of Oprah or Martha Stewart, either, but I also don't loathe them to the deepest core of my being. Why pick on these people? Because they're women? Although Bayard closes his article claiming he doesn't care "what form (or gender) the secular saints take," I'd like to see him write a venom-laden article about some male inspirational leaders: the Promise Keepers, maybe, or Deepak Chopra or the pope. Though these women may be ladling out superficial information on how to lead a happy life, at least they're only telling people to be true to themselves and not instructing people (read: women) that they're murderers in God's eyes if they abort a baby or that it's against God's will to use birth control.

-- Melissa Frederick

A succinct and marvelous review that captures a vital and timely understanding of a current cultural moment. Indeed, these women (and men) have come to be secular saviors, self-anointed by their privilege and position, brains and media manipulation. There is something false, shallow and self-absorbed in Quindlen's and others' unwillingness or perhaps even inability to understand their own positions of privilege and wealth. These are false saviors, prompted by a sophisticated greed. They suffer what a Western materialist culture suffers: a suffering of privilege and plenty. Is this a new form of Marie Antoinette-ism?

-- Susan L. Kendall

By Salon Staff

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