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Professional Mystery?

In response to:

Babylon Re-Revisited from the May 23, 1996 issue

To the Editors:

While it is not my place to comment on a reviewer’s opinion of Jay McInerney’s novels, I do indeed take exception to Mr. Thomas R. Edwards’s parenthetical remark (in his review of The Last of the Savages) [NYR, May 23] that Mr. McInerney’s second novel, Ransom, was “perhaps written earlier” than his first, Bright Lights, Big City. Of course Mr. Edwards would have no way of knowing whether this speculation had any basis in fact; only a handful of people, including myself, would, and we happen to know one another, though we do not know Mr. Edwards. Your reviewer doubtless picked up this intriguing possibility from some rudimentary form of the Information Superhighway: that is, some other reviewer said it, and therefore he can repeat it, to introduce some paranoid notion of connivance on the part of both author and publisher. His snide, passing inference is at once laughable and insulting, for reasons that are obvious to nearly anyone, and certainly a disgraceful characteristic in a supposedly objective essay.

Gary Fisketjon
Vice President
Editor-at-Large
Alfred A. Knopf Inc.
New York City

Thomas Edwards replies:

Mr. Fisketjon never quite says that the parenthetical, non-judgmental speculation he finds “snide,” “insulting,” and “disgraceful” was also wrong, and the tone of his letter allows me to suspect that I guessed right. His own speculation, that I found the idea somewhere else, is quite mistaken. My copies of the books say that Bright Lights, Big City was published in September 1984 and Ransom in September 1985; it takes time to get a book written, edited, and produced, and I wondered if Ransom might not be the earlier work, especially since my unaided if rudimentary critical sense found the latter, in subject-matter and method, to be more like a (talented) first novel than is the more complex and innovative Bright Lights. It never occurred to me that such a suggestion might be offensive—from Jane Austen on, writers have occasionally brought out earlier works after the success of later ones, without anyone worrying about “connivance.”If I have inadvertently profaned a professional mystery, however, I apologize to Mr. Fisketjon and his little band of co-initiates, though I wonder about the wisdom of using an epithet like “paranoid” in a letter like his.

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