Aldridge's critical position is odd: he dispenses ratings as if he were seated on Mount Olympus, yet his style and insights are distinctly of a lower order. As Irving Howe remarked, Aldridge ""attempts to write intellectual and literary history without directly and formally confronting ideas."" Thus we have the ironic spectacle of a middling mind berating novelists who are not only his peers, but in most cases his betters, and consigning them to darkness because of their supposed lack of highbrow values. This is fatally apparent in a long, sour, ill-considered debunking of Nary McCarthy, a formidable femme savante who could easily crush Aldridge with one withering phrase. Practically all of these collected pieces, found over the last ten years in the pages of the Times or the Tribune. Playboy and Life: strike all too simplistic combative poses: Bellow, Styron, Updike, O'Hara, Cheerer--all are found wanting, and all are dismissed because they deal in cliches. The American novelists according to Aldridge, is becalmed in a display of fashionable neuroses or techniques or evasions; they have not advanced the modernist temper, they continually produce the ""Kilroy effect,"" the feeling of deja vu. But, of course, Aldridge's dissent is a cliche in itself, and no amount of lively rhetoric or angry outpourings of the obvious can disguise the fact. Aldridge has one theme--writers must ""dramatize reality in new ways""--and he presents a thousand predictable variations on it, without ever, alas, bothering to tackle Burroughs, Selby, Pynchon, Blechman, etc., or the phenomenon of the anti-novel. He can be daring, if that's the word: he defends Nailer's An American Dream, and enjoys Wodehouse. A superb early essay on Fitzgerald is clearly the gathering's best offering.