I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel

ithinkyouretotallywrongDavid Shields and Caleb Powell
Knopf ($25.95)

In 2011 David Shields and his former student Caleb Powell drove out of Seattle to spend four days together in a cabin arguing Life vs. Art. The loose premise is that Shields has sacrificed something of the former for the latter, and Powell vice versa. The exchange moves naturally among topics such as literature, film, politics, travel, and relationships—it’s mostly good-natured and it’s compelling to read them articulating and defending their positions rather than merely holding them. An obvious precursor here is Plato. As Shields has it: “It’s an ancient form: two white guys bullshitting.” Other models are discussed at greater length. A primary reference is My Dinner with Andre, which they watch and discuss one evening in the cabin (though Powell sleeps through half of it). But it’s Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself that appears most frequently, with Powell at one point saying, “I don’t want to be David Lipsky to your David Foster Wallace.” To the reader for whom Reality Hunger is the manifesto to read by, Totally Wrong works like a novel stripped of all the boring parts; it even has a tense and emotionally powerful climax. To the reader who has had enough of Shields’s ongoing critique of literature, it will be refreshing to find him admitting, “I’m out of stories, out of new ideas. I need to change my life,” to which Powell responds, “Even your big heartfelt revelations are borrowed from books!”

2015 Really Short Review. Return to Really Short Reviews