HATCHET JOBS: Writings on Contemporary Fiction

Dale Peck, Author . New Press $23.95 (228p) ISBN 978-1-56584-874-0

New York novelist Peck has published four previous books (most recently a memoir, What We Lost , in 2003), but none of them has achieved the notoriety of his acid reviews of contemporary fiction writers. Recently Heidi Julavits, co-editor of The Believer , castigated Peck for his "snark" in a widely read manifesto, and James Atlas wrote a quizzical, marveling profile of Peck for the New York Times Magazine . For the latter feature, and now this book's cover, Peck was photographed provocatively à la Carrie Nation, ax in hand, and indeed there are overtones of both the Puritan and the temperance worker in Peck. The present volume collects the best of these negative reviews. According to Peck's chronology, the trouble with literature began a quarter of a century ago, roughly around the time Thomas Pynchon published Gravity's Rainbow and begat a whole slew of heartless, indulgent "masterpieces." The modernist moment over, writing has flirted with postmodern trappings while remaining secretly affianced to the worst excesses of Victorian narrative and description. "Now, what one hears hailed as an emerging new genre of writing usually turns out to be nothing more than a standard realist text inflected by a preoccupation with something or other." Peck's criticism of individual writers and marketing trends is wonderfully cogent and invective-filled; dropped into a discussion of Julian Barnes's minimalism, Peck asserts that the novels of Ian McEwan "smell worse than newspaper wrapped around old fish." In "The Moody Blues," Peck calls Rick Moody "the worst novelist of his generation," while How Stella Got Her Groove Back by Terry McMillan is a "panting, gasping, protracted death rattle—four hundred pages of unpunctuated run-on sentences about virtually nothing." Just when the reader tires of vitriol, Peck turns around and delivers a clearheaded analysis of a novel he likes, in this case Rebecca Brown's Excerpts from a Family Medical Dictionary, bringing to the task those qualities of sensitivity, tact and generosity he has often been accused of lacking. Peck has said that he has written his last slam, this is it, we're not going to get any more "hatchet jobs," and that's a pity on the one hand, but great news for the emperor and all his new clothes. Agent, Ricard Abate of ICM. (June)

Reviewed on: 05/03/2004
Release date: 06/01/2004
Paperback - 228 pages - 978-1-59558-027-6
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