Let’s imagine that an arrangement is made for a good writer to pen an intimate book about N.Y. Times book reviewer Janet Maslin — who she really is, the struggle to write well, her innermost fears and anxieties, her day-to-day life. And the writer hangs 24-7 with Maslin for weeks and months on end, and Maslin finds the courage to confess everything…not just her bright-lady insights about this and that literary or New York-y subject, but the deep-down, inner child stuff.
The book that would result, trust me, would almost certainly resemble Michael Bamberger ‘s inside-the- head-of-M. Night Shyamalan book, The Man Who Heard Voices (Gotham, 7.20). That is, if Maslin has had the courage to really open up with the writer, and if the writer had decided in advance to describe Maslin’s inner life as fully and intimately as possible, and without judgement.
And yet Maslin has viciously slammed Bamberger’s book in her N.Y. Times review as “a new high-water mark for [celebrity] sycophancy…not just a puff article but a full-length, unintentionally riotous puff book.”
Her beef is that Bamberger is too admiring of Shyamalan’s life and lifestyle; that he hasn’t been circumspect or judgmental or smart-assed enough. What she’s missing — dismissing — is that Shyamalan let Bamberger into his insecure inner sanctum without restrictions, and what came of this is, naturally, not surprisingly, a portrait of a vulnerable egoistic guy with problems — a guy with a deep belief in dreams and voices (as all creative types need to be) but with control-freak tendencies and a need for a certain kind of approval that requires being not just rich but fully understood by colleagues; a guy with demons and uncertainties like anyone else, but amplified by the power he’s accumulated as a big-time Hollywood director.
Take off the armor and we’re all scared and anxious and messed up in this or that way, including Janet Maslin. The difference is that Shyamalan has the courage to confess this and Bamberger has the focus and the honesty to just lay it down as he heard and felt it, and all Maslin can write in response is distaste. How very big of her.