The way this happened, Mrs. Dexter was in San Diego and I was sitting in front of the television set, splitting a chicken pot pie with Walter. He has not got the hang of eating off a fork, but he only gets to use the silverware when Mrs. Dexter is out of town, so he doesn’t get much practice. We were in the kitchen and the pot pie was too hot and Walter, who leaps before he looks when it comes to food, opened his mouth, made a coughing noise and dropped a yellow gob of it on the floor. It’s one of the things that dogs know that you don’t: food cools faster on the floor than on your plate.
In any case, the television set was on, and the star of Fox News, Bill O’Reilly, was crowing—I don’t use that word much, by the way, except if there’s a rooster around—about the phenomenal financial success of his latest best seller, Killing the Rising Sun.
An “epic saga”—if you read the book jacket—of “page-turning style” that “details the final moments of World War II like never before.” The people who write book jackets are as a rule the editors, who as a rule can’t write, or the publicists, who as a rule won’t read.
And the pot pie cooled. Killing the Rising Sun, O’Reilly reminded his audience, was still number one on bestseller lists all over the world. Just as it was last night when he said so six times, and the night before that when he said so five times, and the four times he has already said it tonight.
A fair piece of these reminders always come in toward the end of the show, in the segment devoted to letters from viewers (“Dear Mr. O’Reilly, I think your book should be mandatory reading for every high school student in America…” and “Dear Mr. O, Killing the Rising Sun is by far the best book I ever read…”), letters that sound very much like the letters from last week, and are followed by a Tip of the Day: Today’s tip, for instance, is that Christmas is coming and the Killing books all make great stocking stuffers. (In defense of O’Reilly’s integrity, it is possible that the letters are all chosen and edited by the same person, as opposed to written by the same person, which could account for their similarity.)
Walter yawned—the truth is, we were both waiting for Megyn Kelly, whose show follows O’Reilly’s on Fox News. Megyn is everything Bill is not: beautiful, smart, funny, and you know somehow that she smells good, but for Walter and me it’s more than that. She cackles. Maybe you have heard this noise yourself, and also longed to be the one who caused it, who lit the fuse.
Megyn took the night off. This is not to say Walter and I have wasted our time. Back when the pot pie was still too hot to eat and Walter spit his out, something also dropped from O’Reilly’s pie hole that may never be topped. I am talking now about all-time O’Reillyisms. And you can never be sure of these things at the moment, but I think that of all the self-aggrandizing, self-congratulating, half-true, less-than-half-true shitburgers that O’Reilly has served up over all the years onto kitchen tables across America, this is the one.
Forcefully reminding viewers once again that Killing the Rising Sun is the best-selling book in the world, O’Reilly made his complaint: that only two outlets—newspapers and magazines and maybe National Public Radio—had shown the respect to review it.
He paused for a moment, letting the injustice sink in.
I should admit that Mr. O’Reilly’s timing could have been better. That same week Mrs. Dexter was out of town, I was reading a flawlessly beautiful book called Hemingway’s Boat, written by a guy named Paul Hendrickson who also teaches at the University of Pennsylvania. The book was published five years ago and I hadn’t read it, hadn’t even heard of it. Admittedly, this might have more to do with my reading habits than the publicists at Knopf, but it is still some measure of where the business of writing and publishing books is.
But Mr. O wants a review, and he is entitled.
The book is a mess. O’Reilly and his co-writer Martin Dugard write sentences without life—flat, passive, riddled with clichés, sometimes four or five of them crammed into a single short paragraph. O’Reilly moves mindlessly from the present tense to the past and then back again, possibly it was someone’s idea of a cure for dead sentences.
His research—what he calls “the truth”—isn’t fresh, but then, real historians and writers have spent years studying and dramatizing the war in the Pacific. What O’Reilly has done is read the Cliff’s Notes and written your term paper for thirty bucks.
More telling, O’Reilly’s “research” has the taste of pornography.
He has gone through cherry-picking bloated bodies, stacked bodies, rotting bodies, and the stench of “internal organs spilling from the gash in a torrent.”
Legs and heads fly through the air, more “internal organs” spill and the beaches rot with bloated bodies. Bloated bodies, bloated skin. That’s what the man says, bloated skin. No bad odor is left unobserved. A few favorite quotes and then I’ll quit. An unnamed marine: “With terrible clarity I saw the head and one leg fly into the air.”
“The island smells of decomposition as dead bodies turn black and bloat in the sun. Land crabs feed on the corpses at night. Blowflies ingest so much flesh and flood that they become too heavy to fly. The stench of rotting food and diarrhea adds to the fetid odors.”
“Japanese soldiers would recount for years to come how much they enjoyed… raping Chinese children and grandmothers.”
But don’t worry, the Japanese would pay. We dropped the big bombs and we won.
And the “once arrogant and bloodthirsty prime minister is reduced to a broken man.”
The Japanese surrendered and therefore America did not invade Japan and O’Reilly’s father, an ensign aboard the USS Oneida, did not die, although later he was pretty sure he would have.
And in this way, O’Reilly concludes his epic saga (250 pages or so, not counting pictures) on a personal note: He writes: “Not usually introspective, my father was convinced of one certainty, which he shared with me on a few occasions—that his very existence, and therefore my life as well, was likely saved by a terrible bomb and a gut-wrenching presidential decision that is still being debated to this day.
“But for the young ensign and his present-day son, there really is no debate, only a stark reality. Had the A-bombs not been used, you would very likely not be reading this book.”
And true to his cover jacket, Bill O’Reilly has brought the war home like never before.