James Wolcott Finally Does the Adam Gopnik Takedown We've All Been Waiting For
For anyone who ever rolled their eyes at one of Adam Gopnik's overly precious New Yorker pieces, or had the misfortune of sitting through Paris to the Moon, his collection of yarns about living with his perfectly winsome children and appropriately acerbic wife in Paris, Vanity Fair contributing editor James Wolcott's brilliant diatribe in this week's New Republic should give you a heaping helping of vindication. It's really worth reading the whole 4,500-word piece, but in the meantime, some highlights, starting with Wolcott's opening graf:
I sometimes wonder if Adam Gopnik was put on this earth to annoy. If so, mission accomplished.
Mind you, he finds himself in fine company in my illustrious literary perp walk. Francine Prose, with her pinched perceptions and humorless hauteur—every time she brings out a new book (she is depressingly diligent), I find myself grumbling, "Her again?" I've never gotten the point of Paul Auster and his swami mystique and probably never shall, unless I move to Brooklyn and achieve phosphorescence. Walter Kirn, what a hustler. But no tactician of letters has shown a greater knack for worming his way into our hearts whether we want him there or not than Adam Gopnik, the art-world observer, former Paris correspondent for The New Yorker (out of whose dispatches was spun the bestselling Paris to the Moon), and the magazine's resident tone-poet of post-9/11 Manhattan, drizzling pixie dust across a cityscape that no longer bears the hearty flavor of "smoked mozzarella," as he notoriously described the downtown death smell. It isn't that Gopnik is ungifted or imperceptive, or a slickster trickster like his colleague Malcolm Gladwell, who markets marketing. He is avidly talented and spongily absorbent, an earnest little eager beaver whose twitchy aura of neediness makes him hard to dislike until the preciosity simply becomes too much.
Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! But wait, there's more ... much more:
A careerist with delicate antennae, he wants to be encouraged, petted, praised, promoted, and congratulated. (In Gone: The Last Days of The New Yorker, Renata Adler memorably encapsulated his modus operandi: "I had learned over the course of conversations with Mr. Gopnik that his questions were not questions, or even quite soundings. Their purpose was to maneuver you into advising him to do what he would, in any case, walk over corpses to do.") He is forever soliciting the reader's approval with an array of cloying ploys that become gimmicky and self-conscious. If he can be considered guilty of "meaching" (Adler's picturesque word), it must be conceded that he has meached his way to the journalistic top, and an air of attainment cups his latest themed collection, Through the Children's Gate.
On a production Peter Pan at Gopnik's son Luke's school:
It's a wonder Gopnik himself wasn't on stage skimming above the London chimneys, such is his empathetic glomming-on. If it's trying for the wife to have Gopnik leaving a vapor trail around the house when strange exhilaration hits, it can't be easy for the kids having their father always hovering around for material, taking down their latest witticism at the dinner table to work into a future piece, documenting every rite of passage in Rea Irvin typeface. There are times when Gopnik's children seem to be trying to humor him, obliging dad with enough whimsical interludes and reusable anecdotes to get through the winter.
We could go on, but you get the idea. Too bad Gopnik himself—or David Remnick, for that matter—isn't listening.