And yet, there are limits.
When people begin to beat up on the Hamptons, even the mildest of men can erupt in righteous indignation and unsheathe that terrible swift sword of which the poet sings.
My targets today? Two rather well-known writers, Erica Jong and Sidney Zion, and an obscure fellow who edits Spy magazine, the lately troubled irritant that used to be so clever, so wicked, one half-enjoyed being savaged.
First, the celebrated Ms. Jong, and just why is she so cross about the Hamptons?
Erica, it turns out, has a new book called "Inventing Memory." She is and has been a wonderful writer (her "Fear of Flying" was a watershed work; Henry Miller certainly thought so, praising it as almost as good as his own stuff). And so, with her new book just out, lit'ry agent Ed Victor had the good grace to host a little book party to help Erica celebrate. Trouble was, from Erica's point of view, Ed gave the party over the Fourth of July at his place in the Hamptons. To help you realize how special this party was, The New York Observer noted it was held at Two Barns, "the farmhouse that Mr. Victor had imported from Berkshire, England."
The Hamptons are full of old barns but Ed Victor believes in the real goods, and so his Hamptons farmhouse is English. Not only that, the famed "flack from hell," Peggy Siegal, was whistled up to help out. And just about everyone you ever heard of danced attendance, except for those famous folk who were at Rona Jaffe's competing party (Rona also has a book out. There may be people in the Hamptons this summer who don't have a book out, but they are too busy checking out groceries at the IGA to do the writing).
And what does Erica Jong think of the Hamptons, where she was being so graciously feted? Well, George Curley of the Observer took the trouble actually to open her book and find this:
"The Hamptons are everything I hate about my generation. Greed, money-hunger, cynicism, display. Their parents summered in the Catskills, so they discovered the Hamptons. From Poland to polo. From Grossinger's to the Hamptons Classic. It makes me puke."
Phew! When that Erica gets going, stand back. Talk about, as reporter Curley does, with admirable restraint, "a little self- loathing."
Then Sid Zion, who also writes wonderful books and has a column in the Daily News, stepped up for his turn at Hamptons bashing: "Writing out here now is like trying to write a book in the middle of Elaine's .*.*. nobody wants to write; everybody wants to find reasons not to write."
When you recall that James Joyce wrote one of his books ("Ulysses"?) in the dining room of a restaurant in Zurich, the notion of whipping off a slim volume at Elaine's isn't all that preposterous. And as for writing in the Hamptons, Peter Maas does it, and his book "Underboss" has been No. 1 on the Times best-seller list. Joe Heller writes in the Hamptons. As do Rona Jaffe and John Irving and Kurt Vonnegut and George Plimpton and Dotson Rader. I do some writing there myself.
Which brings me to Bruno Maddox, editor of Spy. As you know, the book review of the Times takes enormous if sadistic pleasure in assigning reviewers to books on which they can be expected to have, well, strong opinions. Or, let me put it less diplomatically, the book review enjoys a good, hostile critic.
Listen to Mr. Maddox on the subject of the Hamptons generally. "This alien pocket of America, where snobbery rules and people despise one another for what their parents did for a living, should explode at the end of each book like the villain's undersea compound in a James Bond novel. . ."
As for those of us who live out there, Bruno writes, "this homogeneous posse of rich people who all choose to summer in the same place is deeply unappealing."
It happens that Mr. Maddox was given the task of reviewing my latest book, which is about the Hamptons and which he calls, "a playful piece of fiction," but then goes on to complain that I fail to draw moral conclusions about my characters or the neighbors. Moral conclusions? Moral conclusions? Cotton Mather should have issued as many moral conclusions! Parson Weems didn't produce as many moral conclusions as does Beecher Stowe, my fictional hero and the ethical core of the yarn.
Moral conclusions indeed and fie on you, Bruno! If I still had a subscription to