A plot that carries no spare parts and a ``gentle reader'' style of address combine with Dickensian characters to give the feel of a classic to Harris's (Bang the Drum Slowly, 1956, etc.) small tale of a short story writer's struggle with an adversarial critic. Rimrose's career begins in 1963 at the college newspaper in University City where, following in his father's footsteps, he distinguishes himself with feisty reporting and parlous editorials and eventually earns a promotion to editor-in-chief. On discovering in his junior year that he is a short story writer at heart, Rimrose disappoints his practical dad by scrapping his budding journalism career for art. After graduation he marries classmate Lucy, and the two toil as writer and agent/editor, respectively, while hungry children amass as quickly as bills. Rimrose's critical successes--like being heralded by Esquire as a bright new talent and having his old college stories turned into a book--are not matched by financial ones. His fame is monitored and envied by Kakapick, the black-toothed, friendless hallmate of his college years whose confusion between truth and fiction cause him to stalk Lucy and whose quasi-Fascist plan to set standards for American literature is unwittingly facilitated by Rimrose. Kakapick's menace increases as his power does: He becomes chair of the English department at The University and hires Rimrose, who needs the steady salary. A struggle between the two mounts as the critic employs academic mind-police strategies to keep the writer's fame and output under his thumb. The novel abounds in satirical insights into the natures of the creative mind, writing, editing, publishing, and criticism. A wry, self-referential story that exalts the writer, trounces the critic, and avows that both are liars. Sic semper Mark Harris.