Holden Caulfield Has No Friends

May 21, 2013 | 1

Chances are you’ve heard that in a recent interview, Claire Messud responded to a patronizing question about one of her characters — “I wouldn’t want to be friends with Nora, would you?” — by giving her interviewer a smackdown that resonated across the blogosphere. At Page-Turner, several authors (including Rivka Galchen, Jonathan Franzen and Year in Reading alumna Margaret Atwood) offer their own takes on the matter of “likeability.” (There’s also this piece by our own Emily St. John Mandel to consider.)

is a staff writer for The Millions. He lives in New York.

One comment:

  1. Thanks for the reference to Emily St. John Mandel’s essay. I’ve been following the kerfuffle over Claire Messud’s PW reply (which I found astringent and invigorating) as well as the follow-up. The interviewer’s question was annoying. It reminded me of something out of 6th Grade homeroom (Ooh, I wouldn’t want “her” for my friend…, would you?).

    It was amusing to see the issue of “likeability” of Ms. Messud’s character morph into a series of inane comments on Ms. Messud’s own likeability as an interviewee, Heavens! A woman was grumpy or “not nice” in responding to a stupid question!

    I once wrote a performance piece about a character called Psycho Bride, who was most definitely an unlikeable pile of Id, My (now ex) husband listened to the performance and declared the character “repulsive.” A “nice” beige acquaintance of mine commented “Oh, she’s so…so.. so angry, isn’t she?” While I’m at it, what is it with these questions, tacked on to the end of these types of remarks? As for poor Psycho Bride, my favorite comment about her came from a Jungian therapist who said she “reeked of Kali energy.”

    I am a grumpy middle-aged woman who no longer feels the need to/is asked to smile at stangers in order to ornament the scenery, as I was exhorted to in my more decorative years . I’m enjoying myself and look forward to many more years of productive orneriness, free from undue concern about issues of “likeability” from people whose opinion I do not hold dear.

    Cantankerously yours,

    Maureen Murphy (“Moe Murph”)

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