Solotaroff, for decades one of America's leading editors of fiction (first at American Review, then at Harper & Row), is a...


A FEW GOOD VOICES IN MY HEAD: Occasional Pieces on Writing, Editing, and Reading My Contemporaries

Solotaroff, for decades one of America's leading editors of fiction (first at American Review, then at Harper & Row), is a fine book-critic too--as made clear by the reviews included in this new collection, He's especially good on Philip Roth's The Breast, a ""high-tension portrait of the imperiled male ego"" that becomes effectively oppressive in its absurdity:"" 'Okay, enough is enough,' I began to say to the story in its final stages. To which the story implacably replied: 'No, more, and even more than that.'"" There are empathic pieces, too, on Soviet dissident writers, with keen interest in the everyday realities of censorship; generous, if not entirely uncritical, appreciations of Eastern European voices (Kundera, Konrad, Stanislaw Lem); a celebration of Irving Howe's World of Our Fathers, along with less well-known explorations of Jewish culture (Dan Jacobson's The Rape of Tamar, Carole Malkin's The Journeys of David Toback). And two essays consider the state of the contemporary American short story: for Solotaroff, the genre's usefulness ""lies precisely in its fight in behalf of the human scale of experience and its communication against the forces that seek to diminish and trivialize it."" The major attraction of this collection, however, isn't Solotaroff-as-reviewer; it's Solotaroff as mentor to young writers, as wise observer (and would-be reformer) of publishing-world realities. In two wry autobiographical pieces, he recalls his own grand, feverish literary ambitions in the 1950's (""I wanted to be an artist, not just a writer""), the resulting frustration (""writing stories so self-consciously posed they couldn't live""), and the liberating discovery of less lofty literary role. models than Joyce and Flaubert. There is practical, warm advice to long-struggling writers--with specific, encouraging case-histories (Bobbie Ann Mason, Douglas Unger). ""The Literary Campus"" shrewdly outlines the pros and cons of academia as the new center of serious literature: ""If the writing programs and English departments and university presses are to become the home away from home of the writer, they will need to strengthen communication with the common reader and the common life."" And ""What Has Happened to Publishing"" is the clearest, most depressingly persuasive wrap-up yet on ""the conglomerates' ravage of the publishing industry."" A sturdy, quietly impressive gathering, then--with a few items that are likely to become required reading for writers and editors, aspiring and otherwise.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1987


Page Count: -

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1987