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Media Clippings: Ready or Not for the Real Thing

September 15, 2005 By:
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Those of us concerned about how books get published and how reputations are molded were offered more than a glimpse into such literary machinations in the Aug. 22 New York magazine, which ran an article titled "Don't Hate Him Because He's Good-Looking, Privileged, Impeccably Connected and About to Publish His Second Novel."

The "him" they were referring to was Nick McDonell, whose "charmed life" was sketched by reporter Ariel Levy. New York suggested on the opening spread that McDonell's looks evoke an early Gary Cooper; that his privileged background includes the Upper East Side, the Hamptons and Harvard; and that his connections start with his father, Terry, who is managing editor of Sports Illustrated, and who has counted and still counts as close friends Hunter Thompson, George Plimpton, Joan Didion and his son's publisher, Morgan Entrekin, of Grove Press.

If you have a long literary memory, you may recall that back in 2001 the young McDonnell, then all of 17, published his first novel, Twelve, described in the New York piece as "an account of Upper East Side teenagers into drugs, violence and Ebonics." The book went on to become an international best-seller, "the kind of child-prodigy literary splash that elicits the most splenetic water-cooler hostility."

The Harvard undergraduate has just published his second novel, The Third Brother, which was the ostensible reason for this recent profile. We're told that he wrote it at the home of an acquaintance in Hawaii, during what would have been the second semester of his sophomore year. "I would get up every morning and surf until noon and then write until I hit 1,000 words." He wrote his first book at his parents' home in the Hamptons. "I've had absurdly good luck." There's a phrase that's the perfect rebuttal, but this is a family paper, and my instincts tell me to move on.

Levy noted that McDonell is well aware of the "effect" these close relationships have had on his career. "During interviews," writes Levy, "he used to practice 'verbal jujitsu,' he says. 'In self-defense I'd say I am this marketing vehicle; I am all these things,' before anyone in the press could accuse him of being nothing more than the sum of his connections. (Sometimes, they dissed him anyway - funny how some people can feel threatened by a guy who is younger, richer, better-looking, Harvard-educated and more successful. But he's tired of trying to inoculate himself against resentment, so today McDonell is experimenting with a lower-key form of humility, paired with a forthrightness about the fact that he lives a very, very good life."

The quotes from literary types like Didion and Entrekin and the reporter's remarks try to convince us that McDonell is the real thing. I've read the first book, not the second. He's a feature of the literary world. He'll last or he won't. But be sure of this: When he's gone, another "real thing" will take his place.

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