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May 7, 2006

To Hell With Honest Advertising

In an occasional feature, Gelf compares critics' blurbs in movie ads to what the actual reviews said. Not surprisingly, selective quoting and ellipses often turn pans or middling remarks into raves. Book publishers are often even more liberal with their quotations of critics. For New Yorker writer Caitlin Flanagan's screed against feminism, To Hell With All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife, publisher Little, Brown, and Company performed alchemy on a scathing Newsday review, turning shit into gold.

In an ad in last week's New Yorker, Catherine Newman is said to have written in Newsday that Flanagan is "by turns provocative and hilarious …
The witty asides alone may be worth the price of the book."

Newman really did write those lines in her review. They were surrounded by other lines that paint a different picture. Here's what would have been taken from the review, had the ad been trying to denigrate Flanagan rather than sell her books:

Collected in this way, her arguments twist into a Moebius strip of incoherence, and Flanagan's "Inner Housewife" sounds as awkwardly pieced together as the Bride of Frankenstein: She idolizes the housewifely grace of her own '50s-era mother, while merrily admitting to never having sewn on a button or changed her own sheets, and to having cried to her nanny, from the doorway, "Paloma, Patrick is throwing up!"
She lives, at least while her twins are small, like a depressed 19th century aristocrat plunked down in space-age L.A., floating around, aimless, while paid help tends to such details as child-rearing and housekeeping (the mix of futuristic convenience with antiquated, cartoon-clear gender roles sounds not wholly unlike the Jetsons). Much of the book's most troubling matter lies in these chapters: "In every culture in the world, wherever rich and poor coexist," Flanagan writes fliply, "it will not take long for them to figure out what to do with each other."
Maybe the book should really have been a memoir instead of conservative social prescription masquerading as a commonsense nuptial primer. Because Flanagan surely has her finger on the pulse of something, but that something may turn out to be simply her own nostalgia—nostalgia for a thing that may never have existed in the first place.

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