There’s some guilty pleasure for readers in these transgressive literary responses, but most of this collection reads more like blowhard venting than thoughtful criticism.
Titled after a column Williamson (Oakland, Jack London, and Me, 2008) wrote for a French magazine, where his brand of outlaw discourse has found favor, this Texas-based novelist-professor offers knee-jerk response rather than reasoned analysis. He inhabits a literary universe of verities that can occasionally sound more like prejudice: Female novelists hate men (except for the sainted Marilynne Robinson, “America’s Quiet Genius," whom Williamson embraces in part because he says female readers don’t like her.) Black novelists hate whites. Obscure is better than renowned (or popular). Small presses are better than large publishing houses. The South is better than the Northeast. Poor is better than middle class. Streetwise experience is better than pointy-headed intellectualism (though the author makes much of his multiple postgraduate degrees and his academic tenure, often with more revulsion than pride). Williamson either loves or hates, with little to no middle ground, though he writes that an author can move from one extreme to another by violating the verities. Thus, the once-obscure Cormac McCarthy (“the greatest fiction writer alive, bar none”) becomes “a dried-up, sentimental has-been” with his introduction to the viewership of Oprah. Many of the titles of these essays, some of them little more than book reviews that summarize plot, tell readers all they need to know (“Because He Has Wasted My Time, I’d Like to Bitch-Slap F. Scott Fitzgerald and Take His Lunch Money”; “Nathan Zuckerman Goes Pee-Pee in His Pants and We’re Supposed to Care: Or, Zuckerman Unzipped”).
What the critic sees as brutal honesty too often seems unhinged and even irrelevant.