I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel is an intellectual version of the Bickersons, as authors David Shields and his former student Caleb Powers spend four days in a cabin in the Cascade mountains of Washington and disagree about everything from movies to major life issues. In the course of this dialogue there are no holds barred and, in its own way, it has a certain fascination—whether from a cerebral or gender perspective, I’m not sure. Discussions citing Voltaire, Goethe, Camus, Stanley Milgram, and Pessoa abound. Shields’ well-known disdain for the novel is in full force
“Maybe it’s a limitation of my aesthetic: basically, the only thing I really love is listening to people think really well about existence for 120 pages. What else is worth my time?”
so Franzen comes in for a shellacking (who doesn’t love that?) but Wallace catches a break. It’s these sections that make me feel like I’m back in college and not in a good way.
I Think You’re Totally Wrong bills itself as a book that “seeks to demolish once and for all the Q&A format, rendering any such future interviews laughably artificial; it also seeks to confound, as much as possible, the divisions between “reality” and “fiction”, between “life” and “art””. This is a pretty tall order from a book that weighs in at 256 pages of nothing but back and forth between two middle-aged men while they drink beer. I’m not even sure what exactly is meant by that mission statement but what I got was an alpha male and alpha male junior, neither of whom is willing to concede to the other’s position. It is only when they slip into more personal territory that the book piques my interest. For both men there is a wistfulness attached to the fact that neither of their wives is particularly enamored with their writing. Shields says
“I’d say it’s one of the sadnesses in my life. She reads my work and she semi-likes it sometimes—there’ll be passages she likes—but she’s not exactly riveted.
It is these glimpses into the masculine psyche—even when they include much about porn, sports and one-upmanship of professional success—that show there is more to be gotten from I Think You’re Totally Wrong. When Shields and Powell drop the quarreling premise that both revel in and speak freely on the more mundane topics of marriage, children, and work, this book comes to life. My favorite line in the entire book:
We rarely have arguments, although we disagree about everything. – Caleb Powell about his marriage
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