Rancor, resentment, whining, self-loathing and, of course, some very good prose.
To read Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March, says memoirist and novelist Charyn (The Green Lantern, 2004, etc.), “is to live inside a hornet’s head—to hear and feel an endless clatter.” While “Grandma Lausch,” the Augie March excerpt Charyn includes, is not particularly illustrative, much of the rest of the anthology is. These are voices raised loud, a cacophony of complaint and condemnation. In the excerpt from Portnoy’s Complaint (“Cunt Crazy”), Philip Roth rails against life, Jewishness, mother, father and whatever else comes to mind. Father-bashing: It’s a favorite theme, as if suddenly Oedipus had been recalled and raised from the dead. Cruel, mindless, insensitive papas take a pasting from Delmore Schwartz (“In Dreams Begin Responsibility”), Henry Roth (“Call It Sleep”) and from Charyn himself (“The Dark Lady from Belorusse”). In “Levitation” (from Levitation: Five Fictions), Cynthia Ozick is brutal to a pair of mid-list writers and their feckless circle; in “The History of them All” (from Beautiful Losers), Leonard Cohen inveighs against betrayal masquerading as friendship; and in “Death from Miami Beach” (from The Age of Happy Problems), Herbert Gold scolds the suntanned elderly as they wait for Godot. The 19 contributors range from the frequently anthologized (Bernard Malamud, I.B. Singer, Woody Allen, Grace Paley, Tillie Olsen) to the lesser known, such as Jay Neugenboren, whose “The American Sun & Wind Moving Picture Company” (from News from the New American Diaspora) is a clever but melancholy tour de force. Some of the pieces are somewhat less testy than others. By and large, however, this is one clamorous collection, the guiding principle of which is: Pass the vitriol, hold the affirmation.
A kind of sour grapes of wrath, brilliantly rendered.