CRITICAL MASS by James Wolcott

CRITICAL MASS

Four Decades of Essays, Reviews, Hand Grenades, and Hurrahs

KIRKUS REVIEW

A veteran culture critic for Vanity Fair and other publications weighs in and waxes wise on TV, comedians, music, movies, books and writers.

Wolcott, who has written a memoir (Lucking Out, 2011, etc.), a novel and a collection of political commentaries, is an unusually erudite critic who writes with considerable humor, compassion and empathy—though his toolkit includes a deadly straight razor, as well. After a brief introduction, he launches into the collection, which is almost entirely chronological within each section (there are a few exceptions). He begins with that classic TV flare-up between William F. Buckley Jr. and Gore Vidal in 1968, an event which he revisits more than 400 pages later in a lacerating review of Fred Kaplan’s biography of Vidal. One of Wolcott’s great strengths is his visual sense and his metaphorical power; something impressive appears on nearly every page. Johnny Carson was “the comedic virtuoso of the superego”; Parker Posy, “scarily thin…plunges blade-like into every scene”; Sam Peckinpah “seemed to have a hand grenade for a heart”; Joyce Carol Oates’ A Bloodsmoor Romance is “a speck of inspiration that somehow metamorphosed into a word-goop with a ravenous case of the eaties”; Truman Capote was “a debauched angel.” Hungry readers will gobble these phrases like Halloween candy. Throughout the collection, Wolcott reveals his admiration for the work of Norman Mailer; his ambivalence about Vidal; his disdain for Oates and Richard Ford; and his respect for Philip Larkin and James Garner. He deals frankly with the private lives of writers—the laundry of Mailer and Styron dangles in the open air—and there is a series of essays about the Amises, father and son, which reveals all their darks, lights and grays.

An eclectic collection that reasserts the author’s reputation as one of America’s most perceptive, candid and humane critics.

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-385-52779-8
Page count: 512pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2013




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