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I Must Say

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

These short but wide-ranging essays are frequently humorous, acerbic, and incisive, their author always frank -- churlishly frank and opinionated. Newman, a man whose ideal vision of the United States seems greatly at odds with what the country is becoming, has a bellyful of annoyances: He is annoyed by manufacturers who transform people into walking advertisements for name-brand clothes and other merchandise; by unreliable celebrity endorsements; by the growing national deficit; by spitting baseball players; by illiterate baseball managers; by overpaid, “tiresome and unattractive” athletes; by arcane sports announcers; by day-care centers, where children are “parked"; by the “arrant foolishness” of surrogate motherhood; by the “dilatory tactics and self-indulgence” of lawyers who drag cases out at the taxpayers’ expense; by “fat” American women, whom Newman calls “lady sumo wrestlers,” apparent in increasing and “disquieting” numbers; and by ubiquitous background music, “a form of torture and possibly a device used by conspirators seeking to soften the brains of American people.”

Some of these essays are pointlessly flat, such as “Health and Public Policy” and “Living with the Teleprompter,” and some--placed together for their thematic similarities--are redundant: for example, “School Days?” and “Why Do They Do It?” both of which deal superficially with teenage pregnancies. Newman nowhere delves into his subjects deeply, and his thinking seems unattractively narrow--as when he asserts, “Women want to be mothers.” Because he favors declarative sentences and resists qualifying his assertions, and despite the utter saneness of many of his observations, I MUST SAY may be summed up with the cliche Newman himself uses to conclude his essay “Violent Times": “All of this barely scratches the surface.”