Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another


A Conservative Novel of Conservative Lineage

Review elides author’s famed legacy

Print Email

“As with most first novels, The November Criminals contains some repurposing of life experience,” explains the Wall Street Journal in its generally positive review of Sam Munson’s debut. The book seems to be essentially a long—one can’t resist saying Caulfield-esque—monologue from a particularly cynical high-school senior growing up upper-middle-class in Washington, D.C., which, you see, is also where Munson grew up.

Additionally, the reviewer says, the novel might be considered a politically conservative one—it “takes aim at a lot of liberal pieties”—which presumably reflects Munson’s own beliefs: “The most interesting bit of Mr. Munson’s background is that the author worked as a researcher for CNBC host and devoted supply-sider Larry Kudlow and as an editor at Commentary magazine.”

Everyone ought to be judged on the basis of who he is and his own work. That said, given the novel’s politics, might “the most interesting bit of Mr. Munson’s background” not be that he worked for Commentary, but that he is, um, Norman Podhoretz’s grandson?

This is especially relevant because the description of Munson’s novel—which I have not read, but which frankly sounds pretty charming and like something I’d want to read—reminded me of a wonderful essay in which Franklin Foer, now the editor of The New Republic, argued that a conservative school of art and art criticism had cropped up, which, resembling nothing so much as 1930s-era Communist thinking, insisted on subsuming aesthetics into politics. Of The Weekly Standard, Foer wrote, “the magazine preaches aesthetic independence but often practices conservative political correctness of a remarkably crude sort.” That magazine’s deputy editor then, and Foer’s Exhibit A, was John Podhoretz—presumably, Munson’s uncle.

Which is not at all to say that The November Criminals deploys art in the service of politics! For all I know, the protagonist’s rants against “Diversity Outreach (‘just as horrifyingly inept as its name suggests’) [and] a history teacher who worships Wilson, Kennedy and FDR (‘that’s verbatim; she actually said holy trinity’)” are objective correlatives that gives us a fuller view of this character. No matter who his grandfather is, it is entirely possible that Munson has little but the highest aesthetic goals in mind (if I get around to reading the thing, I’ll get back to you).

The Journal’s reviewer certainly believes that to be the case: “Munson does this as a novelist and not as a pundit—he dramatizes his debates, keeps them entertaining and leaves them unresolved.” Okay. But if you’re gonna go there, then please at least mention what “the most interesting bit of Mr. Munson’s background” really is!

Dear Dean, How To Start? [WSJ]
Related: But Is It Art Criticism? [Slate]

Print Email

Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180

Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.

Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.

We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.

Check out our podcast with Sam Munson —
He speaks a little bit to this issue (it’s less a rant against ‘those liberals’ than a wagging finger at what he feels to be his own most questionable inclinations), and tells us holocaust jokes and stories from his own high school experience.

Measure three times and cut once. – Italian Proverb

Here’s hoping there’s a a load more top-notch material coming!


Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

A Conservative Novel of Conservative Lineage

Review elides author’s famed legacy

More on Tablet:

Wolf Blitzer Explores His Jewish Roots

By David Meir Grossman — CNN host visits Yad Vashem and Auschwitz for the network’s ‘Roots’ series