For all of the criticisms from the right of Hillary Clinton’s blamethrowing on her book tour, perhaps it was inevitable that the sharpest ridicule would come from those her failure disappointed most. In this case, HuffPost doesn’t disappoint when publishing a scathing book review from Sam Kriss, who tweeted out this afternoon that he was taking one for the team. In all caps, no less (via Twitchy):
That’s not just a clickbait headline; in fact, that might be the nicest part of Kriss’ review. “You can play a dire game with What Happened,” Kriss writes, by opening up random pages and reading passages while remembering that Hillary likely ended up with a $20 million advance for the book from Simon & Schuster. (The terms were kept confidential.)
Imagine paying that much money to get instructions on “alternate nostril breathing,” among many other bon mots Kriss cites, which Hillary explains thusly: “This practice allows oxygen to activate both the right side of the brain, which is the source of your creativity and imagination, and the left side, which controls reason and logic.” Say what? The lungs pass oxygen into the bloodstream and out through the pulmonary veins into the left atrium of the heart, which then pumps it as a single flow through our one and only aorta to both sides of the brain, … but science, y’all.
Kriss, however, is just warming up. He describes the book overall as “a Mary Sue self-insertion fanfic,” referring to boilerplate feminine literary characters (mainly sci-fi) whose utter perfection form part of a didactic. What Happened isn’t a memoir, Kriss discovers — it’s a campaign manifesto of a different type:
She’s not trying to be honest or readable; Clinton is still desperate for you to support her campaign. Everything she writes feels metallic in the mouth, weightless and inauthentic. She starts her book with a record of what she felt watching Trump’s inauguration. “Deep breath. Feel the air fill my lungs. This is the right thing to do. … I’m imagining I’m anywhere but here, Bali maybe? Bali would be good.” This is not how a 69-year-old woman writes. It’s an imitation of how some of her fans write, a sterile, chatty facsimile of a first-person blog. She wants, still, to be relatable.
“In the past,” Clinton writes in her introduction, “for reasons I try to explain, I’ve often felt I had to be careful in public, like I was up on a wire without a net. Now I’m letting my guard down.” Maybe that’s true. But the unguarded recollections in What Happened sound a lot like someone who will be stuck in election mode for the rest of her life. They sound ghost-written and focus-grouped, scrubbed to a shine, as fake as anything any career politician says from the podium. Just like on that night in Midtown Manhattan, when Podesta delivered a non-concession in her place, she won’t face the audience. As Kafka taught us in Before the Law, sometimes there’s nothing behind the guard. This book was written by the absence of Hillary Clinton.
Kriss objects to one common criticism from the right and from Bernie Sanders supporters. Hillary does admit to making mistakes in the memoir. However, these admissions are the literary equivalent of the non-apology apology, and mainly boil down to “I’m sorry you couldn’t grasp my genius”:
To be fair, Clinton acknowledges that she made mistakes — but they are all of a particular type. Her optics were faulty; her messaging went out of tune. She didn’t successfully communicate how great and progressive she really is, how wrong you were to dislike her. This is a politician who never made craven or reactionary decisions, just tough choices and hard compromises. Her wars are glossed over; her racist 2008 campaign disappears almost entirely; her support for the Honduran coup regime that murdered Berta Cáceres is unmentionable, disappearing into a warm fug of “kindness and love.” Sometimes it’s even more direct. “I have friends who get frustrated with their spouses who, instead of listening to them vent about a problem and commiserating, jump straight into trying to solve it. That was my problem with many voters: I skipped the venting and went straight to the solving.” She failed because she was simply too good at making things better.
Be sure to read it all, of course. But also be sure to practice your alternate nostril breathing, which will activate enough of both sides of your brain to enable you to avoid buying this book.