13 August 2012

Review: The Submission

The Submission
The Submission by Amy Waldman

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

One of the worst movies I've ever seen is Crash. In the same vein (and by the same writers) of Traffic, it's a movie that takes a certain idea or concept, maps it out in ridiculously black and white terms, and then takes a two hour cluebat to your psyche. In Crash, everyone's a little bit racist (except for those who are not, and are thus nothing more than pure victims), in Traffic, drugs may be bad but the drug war is worse. It's a knowing nod to those who are considered informed by the creators - as long as you agree with what the creators are peddling.

The Submission is effectively the literary version of this artistic illustration of such confirmation bias. In The Submission, we land in the story right when a design for a 11 September memorial is about to be chosen. The committee has done so via a blind selection process, and it turns out that the winning design is created by a Muslim man. The story follows the main people involved in the process, including the designer.

Whether you're sympathetic or hostile to the ideas pushed forward in the book is of little consequence to the end result, which is a straightforward narrative where anyone who is not on the correct side of the issue is a caricature of actual human beings, and ends up reading more like an NPR junkie's idea of what certain groups act like. It's a book begging to be handsold in an independent bookstore, in which like-minded people can nod at each other because, like in the films spoken above, they get it and everyone else does not. While it's (obviously) insulting to those that it's supposed to insult, it's also insulting to thinking people who may be otherwise sympathetic to a lot of what is described in the book, as I am. One can make a narrative with a message without condescending upon those it seeks to lampoon. It's not satire, but it might have worked better with its tongue firmly in cheek.

There's good writing here, for sure, but it's weighed down by the message-sending and attitude. It's unfortunate.

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