“Junot Díaz’s Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao…is so original it can only be described as Mario Vargas Llosa meets Star Trek meets David Foster Wallace meets Kanye West.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
The “author x meets author y” formula and other such tropes (novelists crossing, mating, or being used in recipes) can be as incisive and fun as they are inane and reductive. But above all, critical assessments like the one above demonstrate how small the literary world is: artists past and present are always bumping into each other. (Indeed, if reviews and blurbs are to be believed, writers like Elmore Leonard, Philip K. Dick, and P.G. Wodehouse still have positively brutal social schedules.) Inspired by the apparent gregariousness of the novel, I set out to conceive of and review the most convivial work imaginable, The Summit (an entirely fictional work of fiction).
The Summit is a highly allusive text, The Norton Anthology of American Literature meets The Oxford Book of English Verse meets Justin Halpern’s Sh*t My Dad Says. Should that sound too fusty, the novel could just as easily be described as Philip Roth meets Nathan Zuckerman, with a run-in with Peter Tarnopol thrown in for good measure: a true meeting of minds.
The more you interact with someone, the more you refine your opinion of that person. The same holds true for literature. Upon rereading the book, I would say that it’s more Marcel Proust meets James Joyce, except that those two writers did actually meet at a Parisian dinner party. It did not go well. Provisional final answer then: The Summit is Thomas Pynchon meets J.D. Salinger, ironic given that that both are recluses, and the latter is dead.
In terms of historical significance, The Summit’s publication falls somewhere between the Yalta Conference, at which Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin convened to discuss post-War Europe, and this year’s Baseball Winter Meetings, at which the Yankees shored up their bullpen by signing a pitcher, Andrew Miller, whom Brian Cashman touted as Ron Guidry meets Emily Dickinson.
Now that we know what kind of novel we’re dealing with, let’s get to its constituent parts. The Summit is one part Künstlerroman, one part roman à clef and one part dystopian fable. It is best enjoyed while munching on a nice summer salad with a simple homemade dressing (3 parts oil, 1 part vinegar).
The tale is a soupy mix: take a nice Franzian broth, add a dash of Michael Connelly, a pinch of the spicy James (E.L. not Henry), thicken it up with some Karl Ove Knausgård and garnish with a sprig of Dorothy Parker. Simmer, then serve immediately in a discarded Chipotle cup with a Jonathan Safran Foer quote printed on it.
For those who either hate soup or excelled in high school math, feel free to conceive of the novel instead as the sum of a geometric series of influences that converges to The Summit as n approaches infinity: 1/2 Jennifer Weiner, 1/4 Don DeLillo, 1/8 Gillian Flynn, 1/16 John Milton, 1/32 Maurice Sendak, with the endless remaining fractions representing authors whose work has been reissued by The New York Review of Books.
The Summit’s protagonists are a bubbly matchmaker and a socially awkward computer programmer. After meeting cute while delivering elevator pitches, they go on to develop a revolutionary dating site — think Tinder meets the old New Republic. When their algorithm identifies the odd pair as a perfect romantic match, it disrupts everything they thought they knew about love and coding. Following the delightful spasms of their mating dance, a cross between that of a bird of paradise and a flamingo, feels like listening in on a freewheeling jam session between Richard Powers, William Gibson, and Nora Roberts (featuring Nicki Minaj.)
Nix that. I feel like I’m merely scratching the surface. This novel deserves a spelunking critic willing to perform a combination of tomb raiding and close reading to plumb its depths: a Lara Croft-James Wood adventure-cum-review.
Here’s my last attempt, even if it remains woefully vague. If Frankenstein’s monster had been assembled using the body parts of Horace Walpole, Matthew Lewis, and Daniel Defoe, then been allowed to reproduce with the female monster the doctor had begun to assemble from the limbs of Aphra Behn, Fanny Burney, and Anne Radcliffe, and one of their descendents had evolved in such a way as to viably mate with a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop — without the aid of in-vitro fertilization — then The Summit would be the second novel of that spawn. (We can all agree the debut novel of this hypothetical creature would have been a mess.)
I could be wrong of course; perhaps no book, or novelist, is like any other. Best to follow Rudyard Kipling’s lead and simply state that The Summit is East, all other novels are West, and never the twain shall meet.
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