Since February the Guardian‘s TV blog, Organ Grinder, has been hosting a nerd-out about The Wire—FX is airing it there, and hopefully they’ve found a way to show it without bleeping out Clay Davis. (Or, perhaps more precisely, bleeeeeeeeeeeping.) The latest entry covers series creator David Simon‘s appearance at the Hay literary festival last weekend. Much of the ground Simon covers is familiar to anybody who’s heard him speak, but I hadn’t heard the anecdote he broke out about a squabble between Martin Amis and John Updike over some Wire-y language:
He also recalled the time Martin Amis was criticised by John Updike for using the phrase “I’m a police” in his 1997 novel Night Train. Amis told National Public Radio that Updike “should get a copy of David Simon’s Homicide”. Simon, who was listening to the interview in his car, thought: “Here are these actual literary lions arguing over some small part of a police procedural; it was the most exciting day of my life.”
(Street slang definitely isn’t Updike’s thing; Roger’s Version has plenty of acute observations of the projects in its Boston-like city, but practically no dialogue between people who live there.)
Most authors have a way of disappointing Simon, even the ones in the realist tradition. He told the Hay crowd, “I like Dreiser, but the guy couldn’t write a human being to save his life.” I’m curious what books by Theodore Dreiser he’s read; I can see his complaint applying to An American Tragedy, which hasn’t aged well and makes clear how much its characters are part of the book’s plot mechanics, but I’ve always admired the portrait of George Hurstwood in Sister Carrie, which is one of the more effective descriptions of a slow mental breakdown in fiction.