I don’t know how many of you are following the story of the feud between author Michael Crichton and Washington political columnist Michael Crowley.Â Back in March, Crowley wrote a piece that was highly critical of Crichton and his politics.Â
Now Crichton has a newÂ thriller out calledÂ NEXT, and as the New York Times notes, there are some rather obvious similarities between Crichton’s real-life arch-nemesis Crowely and an unsavory fictional character in his book:
“On Page 227 Mr. Crichton writes: â€œAlex Burnet was in the middle of the most difficult trial of her career, a rape case involving the sexual assault of a two-year-old boy in Malibu. The defendant, thirty-year-old Mick Crowley, was a Washington-based political columnist who was visiting his sister-in-law when he experienced an overwhelming urge to have anal sex with her young son, still in diapers.â€
Mick Crowley is described as a â€œwealthy, spoiled Yale graduateâ€ with a small penis that nonetheless â€œcaused significant tears to the toddlerâ€™s rectum.â€
Mr. Crowley writes that Mr. Crichtonâ€™s Mick Crowley not only has a similar name but is also a graduate of Yale and a Washington political journalist.”
The reason I found this whole episode so amusing is that not only did Mr. CrichtonÂ portray Crowley as a child-rapist, he alsoÂ lobbed the worst insultÂ a guy can hurlÂ Â at another man.Â
He gave him a small penis.
As the NY Times article points out, thisÂ particular insultÂ actually hasÂ a bit of history in the literary world.Â Â Call it the “small penis rule.”Â According to libel lawyer Leon Friedman, it’s a way to avoid defamation lawsuits. As he explains: Â â€œNo male is going to come forward and say, â€˜That character with a very small penis â€” thatâ€™s me!â€™ â€Â
Still,Â it’s clear to Mr. Crowley (and toÂ anyone else who reads that passage in the book) that Crichton was, indeed, talking about him.Â Â Â
I completely understand Crichton’s impulse to attack a critic by making him a nasty fictional character.Â I’ve even done it myself.Â OneÂ reviewer wrote such a breath-takingly awful review of HARVEST that in a later book, I created a psychopathic teenage character with his name.Â There were absolutely no similarities between the reviewerÂ and the character, and I changed the spelling, but it still gave me a little thrill to do it.
But give a character a small penis?Â Â Now, that’s just silly.Â That’s stooping to the level of little boys in a schoolyard.Â And as a woman, I don’t get the obsession men have with their penises.Â Or with other men’s penises.Â I think I share the same philosophy that other women have on this issue: it’s not the size that matters but whatÂ a man does with it.
What this episode tells me is that even a writer as incredibly successful as Michael Crichton feels the sting of criticism, and can’t resist the urge to lash back.Â Â Maybe he came off looking terribly thin-skinnedÂ in the process.Â But he’s human, andÂ so is every other writer, no matter how successful they are.Â Â