PLAUSIBLE PREJUDICES: Essays on American Writing by Joseph Epstein

PLAUSIBLE PREJUDICES: Essays on American Writing

KIRKUS REVIEW

Semi-angry, semi-convincing strictures against ""a distinctly second-rate literary era"" (now). Mencken said that criticism is ""a prejudice made plausible,"" and Epstein certainly has his share of prejudices, mostly conservative ones. He thinks all the major contemporary American novelists--Mailer, Malamud, Roth, John Irving, Updike, etc.--are overrated. He has some particularly stinging shots for Updike, whom he rates as childish and sex-obsessed (ditto for Roth). He unloads on Ancient Evenings in a piece with the title, ""Mailer Hits Bottom."" He despises all the trendy Alexandrian criticism coming out of Yale and the MLA, but he doesn't even bother to analyze or attack it: he quotes a tiny bit, snorts indignantly, and moves on. He bemoans the pan-sexualism of current literature (""novels of the future are likely to be peopled with genitals sitting around discussing fashionable ideas""), and argues vehemently that Willa Cather's lesbianism is unproved. In a nostalgic vein, he tries to resurrect the dead oeuvre of James Gould Cozzens, and claims he misses the prose of A. J. Liebling ""more than that of any other writer who has died in my lifetime."" (Joyce? Faulkner? Mann? Nabokov?) In a snide vein, he calls Robert Coles ""the Uriah Heep of left-wing American social science"" and generalizes that, ""like the fly and the dunghill, left-wing sociology and left-wing fiction feed upon and replenish each other."" And, in a pervasive naive vein, he can neither understand nor sympathize with the ""anti-Americanism"" of Edmund Wilson and countless other writers and critics. Epstein has a lively style, and he scores direct hits on some sitting ducks (e.g., Malamud's God's Grace, John Irving's The Water-Method Man), but his collection of prejudices doesn't add up to a coherent position or a serious argument.

Pub Date: Feb. 25th, 1984
Publisher: Norton