Cover image for Hatchet jobs : writings on contemporary fiction
Hatchet jobs : writings on contemporary fiction
Peck, Dale.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : New Press : Distributed by W.W. Norton, [2004]

Physical Description:
229 pages ; 20 cm
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Item Holds
PS225 .P43 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Since the initial publication of Hatchet Jobs , the groves of literary criticism have echoed with the clatter of steel on wood. From heated panels at Book Expo in Chicago to contretemps at writers' watering holes in New York, voices--even fists--have been raised.

Peck's bracing philippic proposes that contemporary literature is at a dead end. Novelists have forfeited a wider audience, succumbing to identity politicking and self-reflexive postmodernism. In the torrent of responses to this fulguration, opinions were not so much divided as cleaved in two with, for example, Carlin Romano contending that "Peck's judgments are worse than nasty--they are hysterical" and Benjamin Schwarz retorting that "in his meticulous attention to diction, his savage wit, his exact and rollicking prose and his disdain for pseudointellectual flatulence, Dale Peck is Mencken's heir."

Hatchet Jobs includes swinging critiques of the work of, among others, Sven Birkerts, Julian Barnes, Philip Roth, Colson Whitehead, Jim Crace, Stanley Crouch, and Rick Moody.

Author Notes

Dale Peck is the author of three widely acclaimed novels-- Now It's Time to Say Goodbye, The Law of Enclosures, and Martin and John-- and a memoir, What We Lost. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and two O. Henry awards. He lives in New York City.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Peck has been fomenting controversy with his vehemently negative reviews of books by Rick Moody, David Foster Wallace, and Sven Birkerts. Smart, self-dramatizing, and pugilistic, Peck brings his experiences as a skilled novelist and memoirist to his criticism, and consequently his essays possess true moxie. His arguments are provocative and convincing when he lambastes writers he considers overrated, including Thomas Pynchon and Jim Crace, and offers piquant analyses of gay literature, the problems inherent in emphasizing the racial or ethnic identity of writers rather than the aesthetics of their fiction, and the role marketing departments play in declaring the emergence of allegedly new schools of literature. But Peck views books through a rifle's scope, thus transforming reviewing into a blood sport, not only discounting the content of the fiction he disparages but also giving in to a puerile impulse for self-sabotage by demolishing cogent discussions with nasty outbursts. But however narrow and hostile his critiques are, they are galvanizing, and serve to sharpen the perceptions and ethos of his fellow, more balanced, critics. --Donna Seaman Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

New York novelist Peck has published four previous books (most recently a memoir, What We Lost, in 2003), but none of them has achieved the notoriety of his acid reviews of contemporary fiction writers. Recently Heidi Julavits, co-editor of The Believer, castigated Peck for his "snark" in a widely read manifesto, and James Atlas wrote a quizzical, marveling profile of Peck for the New York Times Magazine. For the latter feature, and now this book's cover, Peck was photographed provocatively ? la Carrie Nation, ax in hand, and indeed there are overtones of both the Puritan and the temperance worker in Peck. The present volume collects the best of these negative reviews. According to Peck's chronology, the trouble with literature began a quarter of a century ago, roughly around the time Thomas Pynchon published Gravity's Rainbow and begat a whole slew of heartless, indulgent "masterpieces." The modernist moment over, writing has flirted with postmodern trappings while remaining secretly affianced to the worst excesses of Victorian narrative and description. "Now, what one hears hailed as an emerging new genre of writing usually turns out to be nothing more than a standard realist text inflected by a preoccupation with something or other." Peck's criticism of individual writers and marketing trends is wonderfully cogent and invective-filled; dropped into a discussion of Julian Barnes's minimalism, Peck asserts that the novels of Ian McEwan "smell worse than newspaper wrapped around old fish." In "The Moody Blues," Peck calls Rick Moody "the worst novelist of his generation," while How Stella Got Her Groove Back by Terry McMillan is a "panting, gasping, protracted death rattle-four hundred pages of unpunctuated run-on sentences about virtually nothing." Just when the reader tires of vitriol, Peck turns around and delivers a clearheaded analysis of a novel he likes, in this case Rebecca Brown's Excerpts from a Family Medical Dictionary, bringing to the task those qualities of sensitivity, tact and generosity he has often been accused of lacking. Peck has said that he has written his last slam, this is it, we're not going to get any more "hatchet jobs," and that's a pity on the one hand, but great news for the emperor and all his new clothes. Agent, Ricard Abate of ICM. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Novelist Peck (What We Lost) opened his July 2002 New Republic review of Rick Moody's The Black Veil by observing, "Rick Moody is the worst writer of his generation." This hatchet job, as Peck calls it, is reprinted here with 11 other reviews written from 1995 to 2002, all of which now include even more razor-edged introductions and conclusions. Announcing at the start that he will "no longer write negative book reviews," Peck finishes his slashing career by inveighing against "Stepford novels" and lambasting Joyce's Ulysses. So this little volume becomes an instant collector's item for those who enjoy Peck's "Kill Bill" approach to the modern novel, which he describes as "hack[ing] away the deadwood in order to discover the heart of the novel." Peck's victimsersubjects include Jamaica Kincaid, Julian Barnes, and Jim Crace, as well as Philip Roth and even Kurt Vonnegut. For those who like their literary criticism strong, emotional, and salty, this is essential to finish an era. Recommended for specialized and literary collections since Peck's language may be too liberated for some readers.-Shelley Cox, Southern Illinois Univ. Lib., Carbondale (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.