Bad-boy book reviewer and author Dale Peck has taken his literary-criticism-as-theatre approach (or perhaps literary criticism as pro wrestling) to its logical conclusion with a new look-at-me stunt.
The U.S. website The Morning News asked Peck to serve as one of the later-stage judges for its “Tournament of Books,” in which 16 notable novels from 2005 are pitted against each other in pairs until a sole winner emerges. Peck was asked to judge between Ali Smith’s The Accidental and Ian McEwan’s Saturday — which one would be worthy of advancing to the semi-finals?
Well, as it turns out, neither: Peck refused to choose one over the other, insisting that they were equally undeserving. “The truth is, contemporary fiction’s nothing more than an enabler of certain bourgeois illusions,” he wrote. “[U]ntil writers realize the social compact is spiritual and species suicide, a pseudoethical pressure valve that allows Western society to pretend it’s examining its troubled conscience when all it’s doing is assuaging the guilt we feel for exploiting the rest of the world—and destroying it in the process—then the literary novel will remain little more than a series of embarrassing, irrelevant mea culpas.”
Peck also dishes out some small-minded cynicism to anyone foolish enough to take an interest in what he has to say: “But speaking more generally—hell, you’re all just waiting for the pull quote anyway—books like these make me want to join al Qaeda” (emphasis added). So can we all just start ignoring him now, please? (Well, er, starting as soon as In Other Media finishes this post.)
Anyway, the Morning News folks went ahead and flipped a coin, thus advancing The Accidental to the next round. And Peck’s next book is a children’s fantasy adventure novel called The Drift House, set to publish this fall. According to its Amazon listing, the book starts off with three children moving to Canada after 9/11, to live with their “Uncle Farley” (!).