Thursday, October 15, 2015

Flashback: All Summer Long

     Pans are more fun than praise. My column Wednesday on Leonard Pitts' new novel, "Grant Park," was hobbled by the fact it is a pretty good book. The review referred almost wistfully to another novel by another columnist—"All Summer Long" by Bob Greene. I couldn't resist the urge to dredge up my infinitely more satisfying treatment of it, which ran in the Reader 20 years ago. I loved the fact that it was presented deadpan as a review that just happened to be written by Bob's nemesis, Ed Gold, as if it weren't the latest link the clanking chain of malice that was BobWatch. The bit of publishing gossip beginning the third paragraph was possible because Bob and I shared a publisher at the time.

All Summer Long
By Bob Greene
(St. Martin's Press; $5.99)
Reviewed by Ed Gold

     There were moments while reading this unremittingly awful novel that I just wanted to close the book, turn my face to the wall, and die.
     Staring hour after hour into the Freudian cesspool of Bob Greene's psyche, delivered in a septic stream of 437 pages of predigested prose--devoid of a single metaphor, sharp image, or fresh idea--was practically a soul-shattering experience.
     All Summer Long was said to be the coveted novel that Bob extracted out of Doubleday, his pound of flesh in return for Hang Time, the highly lucrative kissy-face to Michael Jordan. The two years that passed before paperback publication, plus the novel's devolving to the inferior St. Martin's Press, point to its vanity press nature. As do the blurbs from publications such as the Cape Cod Times, the Flint Journal, and the Muskogee Phoenix and Times Democrat.

   The plot is pure Bob wish fulfillment. The thinly disguised Bob character, an aging TV journalist named Ben Kroeger, dragoons his two best friends into abandoning their families and spending "one last summer" in a journey across the country. "We had said that it was going to be the best thing we had ever done," writes Bob/Ben, as if the three men were bringing vaccines to impoverished African villages instead of lounging around motel pools.
     Bob's fake premise is further undermined by his insistence on presenting the lark as a pure, shimmering quest, a search for the grail that everyone immediately grasps and then reveres. The irony of these three boobs trying to regain the sort of magic summer now being denied their own cast-off and fatherless children never occurs to anybody, least of all the author.
     Falsity sprouts on every page. The wives of both friends have obligatory little scenes where they give their blessing to Bob/Ben. One wife, with two small children, says, "I think it's important that he gets out for a while and sees some things. . . . I want him to have this summer." The other says, "Ronnie works hard. Ronnie deserves to relax." Bob's ersatz women are fake in a way seldom seen outside pornography, but then again, so are his men. In fact, the book has only one character—Bob Greene—given different aliases and manners, but all reflecting back, hideously, to the same pulsing pathology.
     Mercifully, only a hint of the book's complete wrongness can be conveyed here. Much will be familiar to Bob readers: the scenes whose sole purpose is to recycle old columns, making patties of the regurgitated mash of past fixations—Elvis, television, baseball, television, the Beach Boys, more television. I kept waiting for Baby Richard to toddle past.
     A special warning must be added: Bob procures a love interest for himself. Mary, a 23-year-old "really beautiful" tanned athlete jogs up to Bob/Ben on the beach and breaks through his natural midwestern reserve with a fusillade of praise for his high-caliber journalism. She's hip—she listens to Taylor Dayne. She calls him "chief." They go through a high school romance, holding hands. Mary, laughing, pokes Bob/Ben playfully in the arm. Bob/Ben solemnly explains the magic of Brian Wilson.
     They hop into the sack, but not before Bob/Ben mercifully draws the veil, so to speak, as Mary is taking off her shirt and rubbing her bare chest against his. Only the numbness caused by the preceding 200 pages kept me from leaping out a window at this point, the way young men were said to do after reading Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther.
     Heck, perhaps Bob has established a new genre here: unintentional horror. Parts of All Summer Long are as terrifying as anything Stephen King ever wrote, grotesque enough to make the most blood-drenched P.D. James novel look like Pat the Bunny.
     Read it at your own peril.


  1. Hilarious, especially the lack of reality of wives being left with small kids and just saying-happy trails.

  2. Any additional criticism of Bob Greene at this point would be piling on a pile of, well something. There must be something nice to find about Bob Greene, so search after Google search, reveals he has a likable middle name. Danny Kirchner is now 24 years old, and seems to be a normal person, thank goodness. Here is a good article from 2012 by Jane Edwards, summarizing the Baby Richard story, and similar cases. It includes a quote from Justice James Heiple that demonstrates the Judge was not such a bad fellow after all.

    1. And I did feel like I was sort of just throwing anything up today. But the final, drop dead, no more changes manuscript was due at the University of Chicago Press this morning, and I just didn't have any gas in the tank last night.

  3. Does the book have a happy ending (no, not that kind)? Lessons learned? Everything Ben needed he already had, etc.?

    1. I'll be honest: I never got to the end. I had to stop. It truly was a wrenching experience to read something so bad.

    2. Almost gave up on The McDermotts of Ballycloran, not that the writing was bad, but every single character who wasn't evil, was miserable and Trollope even foreshadowed more and more misery to come, and it did, over and over again, such that death was welcome and it too appeared over and over.


  4. Usually I tell people, if you don't like a writer, don't read him or her. But in Bob's heyday, that advice seemed inadequate, if not impossible. His column, usually the seven millionth one about Baby Richard, took up what seemed like half of the front page of the Tempo section, topped with his fat, smirking face and ridiculous toupee.

    When he fell, if schadenfreude were an opiate, I would have OD'd.

  5. I fell for the Baby Richard saga for a while, until I thought I was reading re-prints of the same column, over and over, wondering how the paper could get away with such a thing. It's never too late to wise up.

    I'd much rather eat at a Big Boy restaurant (top photo) than read one sentence of "All Summer Long".

    1. The phrase I recall reading over and over was a reference to his biological father's home, "where he had never spent a single night." It got to be a joke to see if it would be in the day's paper.

  6. Hmmm... That Big Boy photo seems to work for this post on so many levels. It could well be a "Bob's Big Boy." Greene certainly loved cheeseburgers, not to mention cranking out a lot of cheese, himself. The place represents the type of third-rate, nostalgic Americana that was his stock-in-trade. But, most remarkably, I think that may be one of his toupees that the little big man is sporting!

    1. It did seem to resonate, and I did think of the cheeseburger connection. He mentions cheeseburgers in the title of one of his collections.

  7. I don't remember much about Green -- seldom looked into the Trib those days. And have no wish to return there. However, Neil's mentioning "The Sorrows of Young Werther" and its influence on the impressionable youth of its time, offers an opening to quote one of the great put downs of the 19th Century. Not a book review but a little poem by William Makepeace Thackeray.

    "Werther had a love for Charlotte
    Such as words could never utter.
    Would you know how first he met her?
    She was cutting bread and butter.

    Charlotte was a married lady
    And a moral man was Werther,
    And for all the wealth of indies,
    Would do nothing for to hurt her.

    So he sighted and pined and ogled,
    And his passion boiled and bubbled.
    Till he blew his silly brains out,
    And not more was by it troubled.

    Charlotte, having seen his body
    Borne before her on a shutter.
    Like a well conducted person,
    Went on cutting bread and butter."

    Tom Evans

  8. Oh Bob Greene. So many reason to absolutely loathe him. The Baby Richards morass, the sexual harassment of young women, the absolutely terrible writing.

    But for me the final straw was a column where he maligned with brutality and a sense of superiority the appeals process for a convict who had confessed. I mean he'd confessed what more was there to say. A lot, as many hardworking attorneys have established. Bob Greene was too stupid to know that.

    1. He seemed to think accused criminals should simply be taken out behind the police station and killed.

    2. Exactly! By the way, I used to get ridiculously excited when there was a Bob Watch column. I'd save it to read on Sundays in bed. Those columns made my whole week.

  9. This perceptive attack on Bob Greene's literary phlegm, All Summer Long, was wonderful to read. When that book came out, I kept thinking who would bother with such slush.

    One thing I couldn't stand about Greene was his excessive sentimentality about Ohio. I always thought he'd be happier whittling on a porch in Ohio than writing for major newspapers in Chicago. That's not a rub against Ohio; I realize you grew up there. It's just that Greene had little enthusiasm, zest and curiosity for a great job--a newspaper columnist in Chicago--that some journalists would give up their first born to have.

    Sometimes Greene would write an insightful column. I remember one that drew a link between the popular X symbolism among right-wing whites longing for the days of the Confederacy and black nationalists pining for a new Malcolm X. But solid columns from Greene were rare.

  10. Ugh. Bob Greene. What did it for me was when he was writing about all the gun deaths in the US, and then suggested we be put under martial law or UN control.

    I actually wrote the paper, because I think the stats in his column were roughly 25,000 deaths--a number that terrified Greene. The fact that there were nearly 300 MILLION of us at the time, so he wanted martial law for a murder rate of less than 99.9%? Just mind boggling stupid.


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