The Magazine

Second Time Around

For columnist Maureen Dowd, recycling begins at the office.

Feb 6, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 20 • By CHARLOTTE ALLEN
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Nonetheless, fast-moving events have a way of rendering obsolete even Dowd's most determined effort to show she's on top of them. I had to chuckle when I read this paragraph on page 310: "There was a time when I would get furious and fire off an angry note if someone cast me in a catfight with a colleague. I assumed that catfights would fade as women progressed. They seemed so retro." Judith Miller, call your office. Or rather, your former office.

Furthermore, the task of stitching together dozens of 750-word Times columns into a cohesive book-length manuscript clearly proved too daunting for Dowd. Sometimes she uses the device of the truly awkward transition, as in this segue between male news anchors and the election of the pope: "It's interesting that media big shots are moving away from patriarchal, authoritarian voice-of-God figures, even as voice-of-God figures, such as the Catholic Church and elected officials, are building up their authoritarian patriarchies." (Don't even try to parse that sentence, much less figure out what it means.)

Elsewhere Dowd simply relies on typography--three centered asterisks followed by a fancily-set incipit to the next paragraph--to signal to her readers that she couldn't think of any logical way to link, for example, bonobo sex and male nipples, two topics that fall hard upon each other in Are Men Necessary?, giving the reader the impression that its author suffers from adult ADD. Even the book's subtitle, When Sexes Collide, is a non sequitur. (And shouldn't it be When the Sexes Collide?)

This is strange, because Dowd's acknowledgments contain a name-dropper's wish list of "infinitely creative and giving friends"--Leon Wieseltier, "Tom" Friedman, Michael Kinsley, Alec Baldwin, Chris Matthews, George Stephanopoulos, "Michi" Kakutani, Nora Ephron, Sally Quinn--without whom, she says, the book couldn't have been written. Couldn't one of those creative and giving souls--Leon or Michael or Michi or Nora--have sat down with Dowd and edited the darned thing for her?

The book's most disturbing aspect is its unsettling undertone of unspecified resentment at the male sex. What are we to make of a sentence such as this one: "Americans like to see women who wear the pants beaten up and humiliated"? Is this just another lame Dowd witticism? (Her examples are Martha Stewart, who, having been convicted of a felony, arguably deserved a little humiliation, and Hillary Clinton, who may well be the next president of the United States.) There are all those references in the book to the men who are "scared" of Dowd, who are "threatened by female power," who insinuate that she is "bitter about men." I'm in no position to ruminate about the love life of Maureen Dowd, age 52 and single (although astonishingly good-looking), but there is something disconcerting about a book that alternately harangues men to "snap out" of their "bollixed up" attitudes toward dating "high-achieving women" and titles one of its chapters "Why the Well-Hung Y Is Wilting Even As the X Is Excelling."

This is all too bad, because Maureen Dowd can be a sharp, entertaining, and even devastating writer when she wants to be--as in a reminiscence of the insufferably self-righteous Mary McGrory's habit of using the younger guests at her soirees as free hired help, or her skewering of the professional feminists who announced to a woman that they would be happy to service Bill Clinton on their knees because of his track record on abortion rights. And this recollection of sighting Monica Lewinsky at a Washington restaurant, where Dowd was dining with Time editor Michael Duffy, displays both genuinely funny, self-deprecating humor and a novelist's flair for dialogue and detail:

The strong jawline and wide smile turning down at the edges were familiar.

I am, after all, a trained observer.

"That girl looks a little like Monica," I told Duffy.

"It is Monica, stupid," he replied.

Maureen Dowd might be a silly social theorist and a downright dud at putting a book together, but she has a genuine future as a writer of chick-lit.

And won't someone please take the hint and find a date for this lovely and stylish redhead who never has a bad hair day? I suggest Frank Rich. Yes, he's a little grim, but he's on the Times staff, and he can't stand George W. Bush, either. See, Frank, you and Maureen already have something in common--so get on your cell phone now.

Charlotte Allen is the author, most recently, of The Human Christ.