Name-Calling in Michael Crichton's 'Next'

Best-selling author Michael Crichton's novel Next introduces a fictional character named Mick Crowley, a Washington journalist who turns out to be a child molester. That caught the attention of New Republic writer Michael Crowley, who published a withering critique of Crichton's novels some months back. Crowley offers his thoughts on what's in a name to Madeleine Brand.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Imagine this. You're deep into a book by a best selling author. Just when it's getting good, you realize, hey, that's me. He put me in his novel. And then you notice that, well, it's not a particularly flattering portrait. That's what Michael Crowley, a columnist at The New Republic realized when he read the latest book by Michael Crichton. It's called "Next." The character is named Mick Crowley and he's a child rapist.

Michael Crowley joins me now.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. MICHAEL CROWLEY (Columnist, The New Republic): Thanks for having me. I think.

SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER

BRAND: Well, here is this superstar author, Michael Crichton. He's written books like "Jurassic Park." He's written scores of bestsellers. And he apparently put you in his latest novel. So what did you think initially?

Mr. CROWLEY: Well, I have to say I'm not a tremendous Crichton fan. I find him to be sort of an interesting cultural character. But I wasn't actually reading the book. I didn't intend too. A friend called me to alert me to this. And you know, naturally my first reaction was a certain measure of disgust and shock. It's a hard thing to process. I mean, it almost seemed kind of surreal, initially. The language he used was so graphic and really kind of hateful, it was hard not to turn the stomach, initially.

BRAND: Well, do you have any doubt that Mick is you?

Mr. CROWLEY: I am as close to certain as I can possibly be without him confirming it. This character who's not even really a character - I wrote a piece in the latest issue of The New Republic, which is on our Website right now, you know, where I tick off some of the points that convince me that it's supposed to be me. And one is that this character is roughly my age. Another is that he attended Yale, which I did, and that he's a Washington political writer, which I am.

And it's important to note - probably the best reason to think this - is that I had written a fairly critical, long cover story about Crichton for The New Republic back in March. I never heard from him afterwards, but evidently in lieu of sending a letter to the editor, he decided to imagine me raping a small child.

BRAND: Right. So - and not are you a child rapist in this book, but you also have a, shall we say, a distinguishing characteristic.

SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER

Mr. CROWLEY: Well, as I learned after reading this passage, there is a little trick in publishing. It's been written about in the New York Times in an article the Times did on the subject, about my response to Crichton in this week's New Republic magazine.

The trick is called the small penis rule. And evidently it's known to authors and libel lawyers as something you throw in when you've written something potentially libelous or slanderous about someone in a novel. So you've created a character who is very clearly based on someone and then you throw in somewhere that, if it's a man, he is lacking in certain manly - in a certain manly characteristic.

And it's kind of a cheap gimmick to intimidate the person you're attacking into silence. The theory, as explained to the Times by a libel lawyer, is that no one will come forward if they've been the target of this because they'll be too embarrassed. But you know, I felt like Crichton deserved to have the whistle blown on him. I thought the whole character that he put in his book was rancid. And I thought that it was just a very revealing response on his part, and not one that casts him in a particularly good light.

BRAND: Are you considering taking any legal action?

Mr. CROWLEY: At the moment I'm not. I prefer to - let's say in this case I feel the pen is mightier than the docket. This seems like the appropriate way to respond.

BRAND: Michael Crowley, real-life columnist for The New Republic magazine and perhaps literary inspiration for Michael Crichton, thank you for joining us.

Mr. CROWLEY: Thank you so much for having me.

BRAND: And you can read Michael Crowley's article at The New Republic online. And just a note here. We tried to contact Michael Crichton. He was out of the country traveling and was not available for comment.

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