Chabon as Anti-Semite: Origins of the Accusation

Last weekend, Page Six reported that Michael Chabon's new alternate-reality book about Jews living in Alaska would probably spark a firestorm of criticism because of its anti-Semitic undertones. Their "information" was sourced to one Kyle Smith, who reviews movies and seems to occasionally write little articles for the Post. This week, we saw Mr. Smith's name pop up again in the weekend media—this time in the Wall Street Journal's Pursuits section, in which he reviews the new book by Fight-Club-author Chuck Palahniuk (subscription only).

We read it with great curiosity. Because, really, we wanted to know: what kind of reader does it take to see anti-Semitism in a book warmly lauded in both the Jewish Forward and the New York Sun?

In his WSJ review, Smith proclaims that "Mr. Palahniuk's gleeful anarchism attracts Goths, skateboarders and others who fancy themselves desperadoes of the fringe." What Smith doesn't say, though, is that he knows a thing or two about fringe himself. Indeed, as we discovered by way of a little research, Smith represents a very specific kind of fringe-dweller: the sort that quotes the Onion, thinks in terms of band references, and gets compared by his publisher to Philip Roth and Jonathan Safran Foer while existing, more accurately, as an echo of Nick Hornby.


According to an official bio, Kyle graduated Summa Cum Laude as an English major from Yale. After that—curveball!—he joined the army, and led a platoon into combat during the Gulf War while sending dispatches to the Dallas Times-Herald. Upon returning home, he did some time in the New York bureau of the AP, then three years at the New York Post. From 1996 to 2005 he edited book and music reviews for People. Since then, he's been doing this movies thing for the Post.

Hate to rag on a veteran, but if anything, that part of the portrait only makes the rest more confusing. Exhibit one is the Palahniuk review itself. Never mind what he thought of the book—our eyebrows are up for the contextualization. Namely: "To the keep-it-real generation, Mr. Palahniuk makes Eminem look like a spoiled preppy." And to close: "Mr. Palahniuk may justly fear the same fate as the gruesome 1990s rocker Marilyn Manson, who, as a mock headline in the Onion once put it, is 'Now Going Door to Door Trying to Shock People.'"

Exhibit two is Smith's career in fiction writing. That's right, folks, our man is also a novelist. His latest book is A Christmas Caroline—it's about a self-centered, size-zero redhead from a fashion mag who learns all about the meaning of Christmas when she is visited by three spirits from her past. More interesting, though, is the book Smith wrote before that: Love Monkey, which by all descriptions seems to have been a sort of proto-lad-lit knockoff of High Fidelity (it was also made into a TV show involving Jason Priestley). At the center of the book is 32-year-old Tom Farrell, a man-boy rewrite guy at a paper called The New York Tabloid. Maybe it's unfair to judge Mr. Smith based on his fictional characters, but the evidence should nevertheless be considered.

Based on what we've gathered from reviews and the couple pages available for view on Google Books, dude likes to chill out and watch sports, and he loves, loves the weekend pussy hunt. He prides himself on not reading the New Yorker or Ernest Hemingway, and on Saturday mornings he watches cartoons and eats cereal out of a Star Wars bowl. "Stacks of CDs" are strewn about his apartment, and he has some opinions about the song "Yellow" by Coldplay. He makes jokes involving puns like "Banana Republican." An excerpt: "I own forty-three T-shirts. I watch The Simpsons 3.7 times a week, and I floss 3.7 times a year. When the house lights go down before a rock concert, I am often the first to shout, 'Freebird!'"

Look, we're not judging the guy. He is probably a pretty nice person and a good doggie to run with. And while some of his work does seem to be pretty middling, there's nothing criminal about it. What we're confused about is this anti-Semitism thing he pulled on Michael Chabon in Page Six. All the evidence suggests that Smith—the author of fucking Love Monkey, the guy who thinks Chuck Palahniuk attracts desperadoes of the fringe—read his new book, thought about it, and found it offensive. Or thought that other people might. Jews, specifically. Not trying to defend Chabon here, really, but WHY DID KYLE SMITH SAY THAT ABOUT HIM? THIS IS A CULTURAL MYSTERY.—LEON