Bare-chested, sometimes self-conscious lit-crit from novelist/professor Williamson (East Bay Grease, 1999, etc.).
Williamson’s ostensible subject is Jack London, who grew up down the street in Oakland a century before him. London does not figure in the canon, that body of received, approved literature of which Williamson is a champion: “When I get rolling in defense of the canon, my heart rate increases, my speech quickens, and I need only a pulpit to make the picture complete.” Not that the canon is complete. Williamson remarks that Poe was admitted to it not so long ago (perhaps, he does not say, because the French adore him), while Steinbeck and many others remain outside it. (Toni Morrison, on the other hand, is in it—Williamson finds her the lesser writer, but there it is.) London is problematic: He is, or at least was, popular, and “good stories that can be enjoyed by the hoi polloi . . . are not art”; and he espoused extreme political views that progressed from socialistic to fascistic with not much in between—all in keeping, Williamson proposes, with the luck of a poor kid who manages to get out of his crummy surroundings and then realizes just what lowlifes he had been forced to live among. Williamson, himself brought up in the East Bay’s rougher territory, stakes an us-against-the-world argument there: It’s a poor thing, and only someone brought up poor can understand why a person might call for the disenfranchisement of the unwashed masses. Mussolinian echoes aside, Williamson does venture that as the canon is changing and growing, it may find room for London and the other dead-end kids of the pen: “The poor are slowly infiltrating the ranks of academia, and in revolutionary fashion, they’re torching the fortress.” Fans of White Fang and The Iron Heel will rejoice. The deconstructionists, on the other hand . . .
As if Norman Mailer had devoured Derrida and spit out the bones.