From Martin Amis on Hillary’s It Takes a Village:
From Notable & Quotable, WSJ. Originally printed in Sunday Times (U.K.) 17 March 1996.
It Takes a Village looks like a book and feels like a book but in important respects it isn’t a book. It is a reelection pamphlet or a stump speech; it is a 300-page press release. At no point did I find myself questioning the benignity of the author’s original impulse; indeed, the book is as sincere, in its way, as anything I’ve ever managed to finish. And yet there is also something horrible about it. . . .
First, we have to imagine Hillary, in the Old Executive Office Building, with her staff of fifteen women (and one man: what is he doing there?), plus Barbara Feinman and other helpers “so numerous that I will not even attempt to acknowledge them individually,” marshalling her manuscript. Their object is to reduce it to a condition of pan-inoffensiveness. This is a big job, because being inoffensive, and being offended, are now the twin addictions of the culture. Chapter by chapter, Village goes over to Bill’s people, to see if they have a problem with this or are uncomfortable with that, and Bill’s people bounce it back to Hill’s people with what they are unhappy about, and so it goes on, until in broad daylight and full consciousness you confront printed sentences which read:
. . . “The 1990 Census showed that young people without college degrees earn significantly less on average than those with degrees.”
“Brisk walking, hiking and bicycling are all good exercise and are great ways to spend time together.”
“In addition to being read to, children love to be told stories.”
By the time everybody’s done, we are out there on the cutting edge of the uncontroversial.
As for style, well, the First Lady should not be seen to be solemn. She can make jokes. But we don’t want her sounding like a flake. Every joke, therefore, must wear a joke badge: it must be accompanied by a plump exclamation mark. As in “Sometimes Mother knows best too!” Or “So much for her grasp of physics!”
Colloquialisms are appropriate only when they come with a tamper-proof set of inverted commas. To say “All of us blow our tops” may give the impression that things sometimes get a little too ragged around here. But to say “All of us ‘blow our tops’ ” suggests that the tendency is under control.