on schadenfreude

I think I'm in love with Kaavya Viswanathan.

This is mostly because, if I met her, I would hate her. A lot. Even not having met her I hate her. A lot. For a variety of reasons, all of which feed precisely into the areas of my greatest insecurity: she goes to Harvard (prestige), she wrote a novel (work ethic), she sold that novel in a two-book deal to a major publisher (success), she sold those two books for $500,000 (wealth).

These are all very very good reasons for someone like me, who secretly thinks she's a writer and who went to a very good but not quite awesome college and who currently struggles to pay the rent each month, hate someone. They're the reasons I hate people like the youngest Foer brother (Joshua? Jeremy? suffice to say the name is jewy and the person to whom it's appended is nebbishy in an attractive way), who went to (goes to still?) Yale, writes for Slate, and whose mini-bio pronounces him "working on" a book on something Malcolm-Gladwell-meets-Jonathan-Safran, like the nature of memory or similar. Add to this the fact that both Kaavya and the Foer are young and spry, whereas I am a decrepit and outdated 24, and I begin to feel as if I'm a Salieri to their Mozarts.

I can distance myself from my hate for the Foer, of course, because he's a boy. The jealousy and hatred can be sublimated, for what it's worth, into something resembling love - if one sleeps with the literary wunderkind, one takes on some of his sheen. I can only imagine what tremendous sheeniness awaits if one actually marries the Foer (or Benjamin Kunkel or similar), but I imagine it's enough to run a slip-n-slide on. But Kaavya - she's a girl. I can't engage in lifestyle-jealousy transference and decide to love her (even though the good-but-not-awesome college in question was Smith). So I hate her.

But I said that I love her. Here's why I love her: She is, as lots of friends of mine would say, a lying sack of shit.

Turns out our dear Harvard-educated half-mil-packing oh-the-Indian-immigrant-experience-touting novelista has a suspiciously steely version of the steel trap memory. Turns out, friends & neighbors, that she ripped off her novel - ingratiatingly titled "How Opal Mehta got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life"* - in more than 40 easy-to-identify ways, from the novels “Sloppy Firsts” and “Second Helpings” by Megan McCafferty.

I am LOVING this. This is hitting every. single. one. of my schadenfreude receptors. I get to watch someone who is: younger, more academically accomplished, more writerly-ly accomplished, and insufferably self-absorbed in interviews fail miserably. In her first public statement she admitted to copying! And then she retracted it and did that whole plagiarism sidestep of “I read the book my book rips off and loved it, and must not have realized how much of it stuck with me.” As if. This whole idea that she’s fallen prey to the less-probable side of the monkeys-with-typewriters theory is just laughable. Also, check this out:

Bridget is my age and lives across the street. For the first twelve years of my life, these qualifications were all I needed in a best friend. But that was before Bridget's braces came off and her boyfriend, Burke, got on, and before Hope and I met in our seventh-grade honors class.
''Sloppy Firsts," page 7
Priscilla was my age and lived two blocks away. For the first fifteen years of my life, those were the only qualifications I needed in a best friend. We had first bonded over our mutual fascination with the abacus in a playgroup for gifted kids. But that was before freshman year, when Priscilla's glasses came off, and the first in a long string of boyfriends got on.
”Opal Mehta,” page 14.

You can’t make that up, kids. Feel the burn, Kaavya. You know, I’d probably actually like you if I met you in real life. I’d secretly hate you, but I’d really like you. But now – thanks, for this one – I love you. I really, really love you.

*let us count the trendy titling tropes:
1. self-reference and appropriation of other genres, viz. "how." (see also: The Girls' Guide to Hunting & Fishing; How Stella Got Her Groove Back; How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents)
2. inclusion of an offbeat proper name, viz. "Opal Mehta." (see also: Jemima J; Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married)
3. excessively long list of what happens in the book, “got kissed, got wild, and got a life.” (see also: What She Saw in [giant list of names I’m not going to type out]; The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, Etc. Who was born in Newgate, and during a life of continu'd Variety for Threescore Years, besides her Childhood, was Twelve Year a Whore, five times a Wife (whereof once to her own brother), Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon in Virginia, at last grew Rich, liv'd Honest and died a Penitent.)

let us now vomit.

1 comment:

EL said...

twists of fate
joshua foer just wrote an article on slate.com about - wait for it - kaavya viswanathan. well, sort of.