Wednesday, March 16, 2005


The latest London Review of Books is now online, and contains a review of Robert Sullivan's Rats: A Year with New York’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants. The good news is that the LRB elected to review a book about an important public health problem in any large, urban city - and vermin can make even the most resolute readers slightly queasy. The bad news is that it was reviewed by Sean Wilsey, an editor at McSweeney's, so that the Anglophile readership of the LRB is subjected to the auto-confessional literary machination of the New American Baroque, like this:

Most of the live rats I’ve seen have been in the subway. Train workers call them ‘track rabbits’. Sullivan describes a subway station near Madison Square Garden:

People come down from the streets and throw the food that they have not eaten onto the tracks, along with newspapers and soda bottles . . . The rats eat freely from the waste and sit at the side of the little streams of creamy brown sewery water that flows between the rails. They sip the water the way rats do, either with their front paws or by scooping it up with their incisors.

Recently, a track worker called Manuel, who moonlights as a handyman, helped Daphne and me paint what would soon become our child’s room. Manuel painted in silence, until I asked if he ever encountered rats in the tunnels. ‘I see them all the time! They’re big, and they’re brave. They scare me. The other night I was spreading concrete when I looked up and there was one about a foot long, staring at me. When I waved my shovel at him he stood up on his hind legs and snarled.’

‘What did you do?’

‘I decided to go on a break.’

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