on March 5, 2004
Lebowitz manages an occasionally clever turn of phrase, but overall I found her tone brittle, artificial, and annoying. I was surprised by her frequent cheerful references to blacks and "homosexuals" which assumed the members of these groups to conform to very limited stereotypes. "People thought this was funny?" I kept muttering. Lebowitz's collection of random observations spent five months on the Times bestseller list, according to the cover blurb, so, yes, apparently they did.
I found myself wondering why I didn't, as I'm usually what's agreed among my friends as "easily amused." I realized that it was because this work has dated. Hers was a world which we now find naïve. Blacks and queers have become agents
instead of objects, even among the intelligentsia. Lebowitz's self-described existence as a drone seems a bland sphere of Vogue, cigarettes, and drinking Perrier with people who talk the way she does. What was once elegant hip now seems, well, dull. Her narrated life lacks the mannered sparkle of that of an earlier drone, Bertie Wooster. We find Bertie charming precisely because his world tolerates him with a knowing amusement-Wodehouse, after all, constantly reminds us through other characters' remarks, that Bertie's thoughtless vanity and careless joys are those of a child. This "second opinion", what David Hume would call "characters of blame and disapprobation" are lacking in Lebowitz.
Perhaps most striking is that thirty years ago, her chapters making light of "chicken farming" and imagining an "adoption bar" in which children and adults cruise each other in a parody of blatantly sexual language were not only acceptable, but funny. When did child sex stop being funny? Not soon enough, apparently.