Today's Michiko Kakutani review of the final John Updike short story collection refers to his "fine, elegiac" stories in the first paragraph.
That seems appropriate enough, right? Updike died last year, and the word is defined as "characteristic of an elegy." But maybe it's time for Kakutani to hit the thesaurus for an alternative. It turns out the NYT book critic has used the word on 53 previous occasions to describe an author's tone as befitting a sad occasion or sentiment.
Sounds like a lot to us. And it would seem to dwarf Kakutani's previously-noted preference for the word "limned," which, in fact, shows up in only 36 reviews.
Not surprisingly, Kakutani drops "elegiac" into her reviews of writers in the twilights of their careers -- we found three apiece in reviews of Updike, Norman Mailer, Philip Roth and William Styron. Poor Gore Vidal has earned only one "elegiac" to date.
To be fair, Kakutani (who won the Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 1998) has been reviewing books for the NYT since 1983, which means an average of only two "elegiac" mentions a year. And it's worth noting that she has used the word "compelling" 278 times during the same period, "brilliant" 155 times, and "wonderful" 177 times.
Plus, we like her! And we don't think of Kakutani as a pushover, either. She has invoked the word "worthless" eight times, and probably is using it again right now to describe a NYT blog we know.