cover image Critics, Monsters, Fanatics, and Other Literary Essays

Critics, Monsters, Fanatics, and Other Literary Essays

Cynthia Ozick. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25 (224p) ISBN 978-0-544-70371-1

This essay collection from novelist (Foreign Bodies) and literary critic Ozick takes a fresh look at renowned writers of the past and present. She sorts the authors under consideration into different categories, including “Critics” (such as Edmund Wilson), “Figures” (such as Bernard Malamud and W.H. Auden), “Monsters” (such as Leo Baeck and Harold Bloom), and “Souls” (such as William Gass and Martin Amis). Ozick illuminates argument through juxtaposition. Thus, essays by Jonathan Franzen and Ben Marcus are seen as seeking, but not finding, “an infrastructure of serious criticism.” Lionel Trilling, “the most celebrated critic of his time,” is seen here through the lens of his fiction, and Saul Bellow through his letters rather than his novels. A piece on Kafka is partly biographical essay and partly exploration of the nature of biography. Hebrew, as language and identity marker, takes center stage for a public conversation between Marilynne Robinson and Robert Alter at the 92nd Street Y, forging links to Ozick’s recurring theme of Jewish identity, and to her last section devoted to Holocaust literature. The Beat Generation comes in for a bit of scolding along the way, but Ozick opens more doors than she closes. “Serious criticism is surely a form of literature,” she posits, and serious readers will agree and find it practiced here. Agent: Melanie Jackson, Melanie Jackson Agency. (July)