1. souse, n.5: 3. A drunkard. slang (chiefly U.S.). (OED)
  2. white souse, n.1: A blog for literature, politics, science, and the occasional cocktail.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Everything is so easy for Maureen

First, I should cop: I've been wanting to write a post about Maureen Dowd for some time, and while this isn't the most opportune moment (Wednesday's column was not a particularly egregious offender) I'm grumpy from a night of no sleep and need a punching bag.

The strange thing about my dislike for Dowd is that I feel like I should love her. She's a liberal columnist, at the NYTimes, who's of Irish Catholic heritage and has a penchant for cocktails. She should be a living, fire-breathing version of Katherine Hepburn in Woman of the Year. Never mind her moral grandstanding during the Clinton years -- after all, I didn't read the times that much back then -- or her early swooning for Bush's machismo.

I guess what really bothers me is not her scattershot liberalism, but the breezy insouciance of the columns themselves. I'm struggling to think of a column I've read that left any long-lasting impression (beyond the back of my throat). Her current column, "Striking it Poor," is a decent example. (Let's leave aside the bathetic names assigned to her columns. That may be the work of a copy editor who yet manages to do service to the other columnists of the Opinion page.) In this week's column, Dowd goes to Nevada with some girlfriends to visit a gold camp and do some quick panhandling. This serves for the through-line of a quick survey of High Sierra and our current economic crisis (with an off-hand reference to Chaucer thrown in). They decide panhandling's too much work for too little reward, and so retire for Ramos Gin Fizzes and a Lemon Drop. (After reading each of her columns and reaching the same conclusion, I wish I had the same option.)

The largest flaw in her writing, albeit, a common one for opinion columns, is her heavy-handed adoption of a central poetic conceit. If you're John Donne, this works. In mortal writing, it's wearying. A good essay does not know where it's going from the beginning; it does not end where it begins (see Montaigne). Coherence is not a virtue in itself (for that matter, nor does a central conceit guarantee coherence, as this column proves). In Dowd's defense, I can't imagine having to push out two columns a week on varied topics, and trying to stay funny and interesting. But I wish that "interesting" meant a more engaging tone of conversation than found on the chaise lounges of Sex in the City. (Second cop: I can't stand Sex in the City either, and it's just now occurred to me this may be because the voice-overs are like Dowdian tweets.) And lest you think I've a basic animus toward modern examples of the New Cocktail Woman, I've been a fan of Ana Marie Cox for some time.

But don't take my word for it. Here's a game you can play at home: The next time there's a Dowd column, read the headline. Scribble down what you imagine it will be about, and what the take-away will be. Then read the column. I'll bet you nail it. And a week later, it's all you will remember.

1 comment:

Matt said...

Ha, Dowdian tweets. I used to get shushed regularly during SatC viewings because I earnestly asked if Carrie's columns contained anything but questions. I never counted but I swore 80% of her voice-overs were just her writing 3 strings of questions. Dowd always struck me as the same way, except her crutch was some quip that came at the expense, as you noted, of actually saying anything.