Wednesday, August 14, 2019

REVIEW OF 'REVOLUTIONS'




Having lampooned Margaret Atwood and her under-qualified cronies awhile ago, I was happy to hear that a man called Alex Good had done Canadians a service by lambasting the same clique in his own way. It was odd to hear about his Revolutions on Radio Canada. It may be that ‘classified’ information gets shared more often on the French side than on the English station; the French are likely aware that no one is listening. 

Rarely do I read criticism of contemporary novels; it is easy enough to judge these bagatelles while I listen to interviews and readings over the radio. But since a critic had been mentioned who dared to cross the line instead of toe it, I made an exception. Wanting to see Canadian literary fiction subjected to truth-telling rather than talking-point flattery, I ordered the book right after the broadcast ended. By page 13, I realized that literary criticism of the respectable sort this was not. Writers of the sewer-set do not deserve to be noticed, much less read; least of all do they deserve to be reviewed. But for the sake of the subject about which I wanted to learn, I made another exception. But first comes my puritanical lecture. If eloquent composition be eye-candy, potty-talk is eye-rot. There is a lot to rot the apple of one’s eye in here. For the record, according to my red Pilot Fineliner, the following pages are in a state of moral decomposition (pp. 13, 30, 57, 64, 68, 77-79, 90, 99, 100, 119, 122, 136, 168, 177, 178, 180, 184-186, 188, 199, 213, 214, 234, 261.) Every writer should have in view the fact that he writes within a narrow span of history which is soon to give way to another. Should we look down the centuries’ corridors, what would we see for books that have lasted for any length of time? We would see more classy books than tawdry; more decent books than bawdy; more virtuous than naughty. If Alex Good had soiled his pages only by excerpts from books being assessed, it had been a fault nonetheless. A diligent writer can make known what a book contains without quoting word for word. Indeed—or should I say ‘forsooth’ since this is an old-school scolding—what a writer should do is review no farther than the first dirty page, having determined, in the interest of chastity and good example, to not read beyond the first blotch. I could have treated Revolutions in this manner. But as I said, I made an exception; and take note: the exception proves the rule, and we don’t legislate for exceptions. If writers have to believe, as Mr. Good says, “that so long as this (my immortal sonnet) lives, it will give life to me” (p. 259), then shouldn’t he imitate the civil quill through which the English sonnets were composed? The written word has so multiplied both off line and on, that it seems utterly disposable (pp. 252-258.) To ensure that a work will be a survivor among the millions of books being published each year (p. 253) is impossible. But to guarantee its transience by ribald speech is defeatist. Because of speech like that, Good’s book is destined to be among those that are purchased “by the bale, but that nobody wants to have on their bookshelf at home” (p. 252.) Literary etiquette is an outdated attribute to multitudes of readers. Even among such readers, however, their reflex is to dispose of books containing racy talk. Each raunchy word testifies against the worth of the whole; dozens of verdicts doom that kind of book to a fleeting lifespan.       

The burden of Good’s ephemeral effort is stated to be the decreasing interest in reading (p. 11.) The essays that make up the book are supposed to have revolution for a cohesive theme (p. 43.) I suppose that this means a revolution against the literary establishment in Canada, whose chiefs are Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje (pp. 71, 152.) Whether that is the meaning or not, I encountered no revolution in Revolutions. This is a collection of essays, much of which matter consists of book reviews. The closest thing to a subject or theme is twofold: What is the matter with Canadian fiction today? Why is it like that? 

It is common nowadays for writers and reviewers to not read the books that they write about (pp. 19, 20, 30, 233-235.) Alex Good assures us that he has read the books that he subjects to ‘psycholiterary therapy’ (pp. 35, 159, 207.) I see no reason to doubt that he has; citing the extracts by page numbers would have assured me even more. It seems obvious from what he quotes that many of today’s editors of Canadian fiction cannot distinguish acceptable prose from tacky, are too bashful or scared to point out the distinction, or do not even read the books that they are paid to scrutinize for assessment. It may be that some of these editors depend largely, if not solely, on the computer’s ability to spot faults (pp. 22, 23.) Certain editors, though, may be under orders to skim through and give this or that author a pass (my inference, not Good’s, pp. 126, 154.) Making money through ‘manufactured’ authors (pp. 53, 55, 56) trumps the requirement of quality. And so Mr. Good has done well to present the fruits of his own scrutiny.  

Many excerpts of shoddy prose are singled out and set down for shame by Alex Good; these include passages from works that have won, or have been nominated for, major prizes. For example, Ego Ondaatje (my nickname, not Good’s) has a leaf praising Anil’s dancing by the following sentence fragment: “Its click of applause.” Then the “music continues furious like blood moving for a few more minutes in a dead man” (p. 68.) For this simile to make a pleasing impression, the reader would have to have some knowledge of what blood moving in a dead man sounds like, which is not likely. Good calls this kind of fault ‘an exaggerated emphasis on style’ (p. 69.) I would rather say that it is failed poetry dropped into a novel as prose, or Ondaatje pulling a mental muscle in his effort to write something comparable to what he imagines the literary masters of the past must have written. It is not an ‘exaggerated emphasis on style,’ but a miscarriage that ought to have been aborted—a monster that should never have been allowed to come to term. In another novel, the same failed stylist has ‘insects carelessly yelling’—during a love scene (p. 135.) This kind of writing is precisely what a writer would fashion for a parody. In a book called The Orenda by Joseph Bowden, snow tickles a face like prayers (p. 164.) Who knew that prayers could tickle? Mine never have. In Minister Without Portfolio, Michael Winter has his character pulling herself up by her lip to kiss her lover (p. 200.) Having read many anthologies full of short stories by modern authors who have written similarly off the mark, I do not doubt that Alex Good found it an easy task to collect samples of style slippage to put on display. If all available samples could be collected from ‘great’ novels of recent creation, and spread out for all to gawk at, we would be staring at the ‘wasteland’ that is the establishment’s ‘legacy’ (p. 88.) 

Patches of poor prose put people off reading. ‘Half of all Canadians’ are unable to name a Canadian author (p. 36.) If prose like the extracts above is the best that Canadians are capable of, this fact is perhaps more encouraging than discouraging. Ondaatje’s Divisadero, says Good, may be a novel without a story (p. 131.) Who should like to be able to name the author of something like that? In Canada we publish novels that teachers would rather not teach (p. 36), that readers would rather not begin (p. 143), and that many find pleasure in determining never to pick up (p. 34.) As such, Canadian novels are a hard sell (p. 10.) When a book is stated as selling 5,000 percent more than before making a shortlist, the rise was likely from ‘a baseline of next-to-none’ (pp. 173, 174.) I know it for a fact that this is how they always tell it on the CBC; they always speak in percentages in order to deceive. The CBC is part of the establishment that Alex Good rakes over the coals, though Canada’s fake news broadcaster somehow passes his notice. Only a few novelists make a lot of money, and it may take more than one novel to do so, which makes the crowning of new novelists undesirable. Witness the recurring names in the running for the Giller Prize, outlined on page 151. Witness the conflicts of interest on page 126. Awarding a prize to a man who had dedicated a book to the judge? These authors write blurbs for each other’s books (though not well, p. 196); have the same publishers; and hobnob within a network among other favored authors. Evangelical authors act likewise, by the way, and to greater shame. One of the most shocking facts is that a book was granted the National Book Award by a judge who didn’t even read it. (pp. 23, 207.) In Burton Rascoe’s Titans of Literature, the chapter on Flaubert tells the story of the manufactured literary career of Mme. Colet. About the scandal, Anatole France remarked that the judges do not read the literary works of the authors they award prizes to. The French Academy survived corruption like that. Canada’s worthless academy will carry on as well. Given very little time, though, Atwood’s books will be as popular as are the writings of Louise Colet.  

Occasional patches of pretty prose may be chanced upon in novels made by pseudo-masters of fiction. The one excerpted from Craig Davidson’s Cataract City describes well the feeling of being trapped in the city that one has grown up in (pp. 170, 171.) Not far away from each pretty patch, however, is tangled speech, the botched metaphor, and words that the highbrow set used to scorn to see written down. 

The literary establishment that Alex Good reproaches is made up of novelists, along with their handlers, agents, academics, and others—a ‘literary ecosystem’ that feeds off a common product (pp. 50, 51.) Atwood, for instance, has three agents and four editors (p. 65.) It is not in the establishment’s interest to risk an author’s cooked up reputation by fairly critiquing the author’s product. Giving praise to poorly written books is damaging to standards in the long run (p. 70.) Until then, never mind what the product is made of, so long as it generates income (p. 51.) The author’s primary role may be his or her known name. Sometimes the author is not even the main contributor of the composition (pp. 52-55.) Now it becomes clear why so many persons are listed in the acknowledgement page of these books, and so lavishly thanked. Again, we may arraign the evangelicals more than others on that point, I think. Tony Campolo and Philip Yancey come to mind. The acknowledged persons may be more responsible than the author—even for the writing that is found in the product. ‘CanLit’ corruption and privilege is well summed up on page 154. Not only the CBC, but the newspapers are in on it too. They expose their collusion by describing Michael Winter’s style in the same way, for instance. After the word went out that he writes like Hemingway, that factoid became the talking point to share (pp. 204, 205.) Alex Good convincingly persuades that Winter’s style is not, in fact, ‘Hemingwayesque.’ History furnishes a precedent for farcical author-making like that. After Marcel Proust groveled before Madame de Caillavet in order to have his drivel noticed, she wrote a preface for one of his books and submitted the preface as being written by Anatole France. France, unacquainted though he was with the book, added a phrase of his own to the preface, comparing Proust to Bernardin de Saint-Pierre and Pretonius—and voila, another author was launched by machinations instead of merit. That story is told in the chapter on Proust in Rascoe’s Titans of Literature. Why do readers only pretend to read Proust? Or why are his books always on the bucket list, but never on the lap? Is it not because his books are unreadable? Are they not unreadable because they are boring? Proust was made, not self-made and merit-made. Synthetic authors are like modern art. One is not drawn to them, but driven to them through peer pressure and deception. Once made to stand before their work, one pretends to like the sight or one sanely walks away. Few men enjoy staring at shapeless, colorless plastic.               

In his book, Alex Good supplies a considerable amount of data on Canada’s literary establishment. This data should have been marshaled for the purpose of explaining, in an extra chapter, the breadth and depth of this establishment in order to pass judgment on it. In other words, the grievance that loosely and lightly permeates this book should have been drawn out at the close for a condemning finale. I will do that a bit in the rest of this review. The literary establishment is a branch of the broader media-political culture that has been diseased by neo-Marxism: a modern form of Marxism whose goal is to make the citizenry into an obedient mass of individuals who march to the orders of an increasingly resource-hungry, tyrannical state. Those who push for this collective utopia believe that freedoms will be curtailed only among the white males who are the descendants of a largely imagined oppressive patriarchy. But a state that chooses favorites eats up the freedoms of all: the freedom to rent to persons by the criterion of virtue; the freedom to hire on the basis of merit; the freedom to pay on the basis of a compact; the freedom to exclude on the basis of belief; the freedom to debate in the public square without an expectation of abuse. When a society plays favorites, the group that is discriminated against becomes frustrated, and is tempted to lie, to cheat, and to lash out. This is inevitable when multitudes of conscientious citizens are choked by intolerant laws that are dreamed up to please the special interest groups. Due to the shifting hierarchy of identities, those who trample, given time, will be trampled in turn. White males have, since decades ago, been trodden down by libertines, immigrants, Indians, feminists, gays; or, in a word: by everyone. But now everyone is being relegated to a lower place—below Muslims. It may be that Alex Good is too much infected with the virus of this nouveau Marxism (which includes relativism and multiculturalism) to do more than give a list of symptoms, which lay scattered throughout his nine essays. What but an afflicted mind would go out of its way to assign the hypothetical foreigner the pronoun ‘she’? (p. 152.) It is an unnatural thing to do—something that is done in order to please the peer-pressure crowd. I think that Good is a man who has been infected from birth but never enlightened, though coercion might have something to do with his timidity. For sure, he suffers from something that he needs to be cured of, for he ends his book with a lamentation about how ‘public funding for the arts’ is not a ‘priority at any level of government’ (p. 262.) Mr. Good has been reviewing books for twenty years (p. 10.) Many of those have been written with taxpayer dollars, and then advertised on the CBC with more taxpayer dollars. Back in 2007, funds to the Canada Council for the Arts already amounted to over $180,000,000 per year. So an author (only a socialist one need apply) can write on the backs of taxpayers through the CBC, or on the basis of a tax-funded grant from the council, or with the assistance of a tax-funded Canada Periodical Fund, or through some tax funded program that taxpayers don’t even know exists, and then he can receive free advertising through the broadcaster. What books does the CBC advertise through its interviews and readings? I have been listening to the CBC for as long as Mr. Good has been reviewing. I know that they promote rubbish instead of literature. The CBC does not promote Class A literature like the stories of R. L. Stevenson or the best of Jack London; the books that they advance for consideration are as bawdy poems beside Shakespearean sonnets. Mr. Good should know, then, that the problem with the arts in Canada is that the government has made funding for the arts a priority, largely through the more than billion dollars per year that taxpayers are made to pay to the CBC—the very platform that is part of the establishment which Mr. Good justifiably censures. It is through the public fund that the CBC sets up the faux literature that Mr. Good reasonably ridicules. If the private sector is ‘less innovative and creative’ and more ‘insular’ than the public sector is (p. 206), may it not be on account of the private citizens knowing they have an uphill battle competing with ‘artists’ who are artificially made through taxpayer dollars? Are they not more insular because the government (including the CBC) is so biased and discriminatory? Who doesn’t want to live on an in-group-preference island when all the government’s national appendages are so prejudiced, belittling, and even threatening? What other option, but to be ‘insular,’ do they have who are shut out? If the government prioritized properly—by limiting its business to the necessities of society: punishing obvious crimes and ensuring the liberty of law-abiding citizens—quality in the arts would show itself to be above the level that the establishment, with other people’s money, has reached. The promotion of novels that demonize traditions and that foster subcultures has made the publishing of honorable material unacceptable in this country; it has done so at the expense of the very people who do not believe in funding arts programs through taxes. Too many persons are willing to create whatever the government (through its many programs and the CBC) wants them to create. Maybe if we had never propped up fake literature via taxes, the so-called Golden Age (pp. 27, 48, 72) of Canadian literature would have brought forth precious metals instead of fool’s gold, Canada would have a solid platform to spring from, and we would not be looking like imbeciles for pretending that Margaret Atwood is the second coming of the Renaissance, or as vital to Canada as Chaucer was to the Western world. Part of Good’s thesis is to talk about ‘the misdirection of Canadian literature’ (p. 12.) Government interference in the arts is a, maybe the, chief cause of this misdirection in Canada. Such interference, which is the misdirection that Mr. Good is on a quest to discover, is the very thing that he wants more of! He who wants even more social programs than we presently have cannot have a high opinion of merit-based success via capitalism. When he brings capitalism up, he does not defend it (pp. 49, 50.)   

Tony Morrison is a black woman. A journalist called Tom Bissell said, in writing, that he had her book assigned to him ‘six times in college’ (p. 29.) Tony Morrison is a multi-millionaire novelist whose bee in her afro is the myth that blacks are being whipped by the descendants of slave-owners in 21st century America. Leftist ideologues up here in Canada, of course, are just as ‘progressive’ in their own backwardness. The Orenda (p. 164), a Canadian novel by an Indian is recognized and honored only because it is about the scabby past (probably misrepresented) that is used as a tomahawk to threaten more money from the colonial-cowboy-whiteys. What’s worse is that Boyden’s claim to being of Indian descent has blown up in his face. He doesn’t look any more Indian than Elizabeth Warren (aka Pocahontas) does. Regardless of Boyden’s birthright and motive, it pays to pretend to be something other than a white man in Canada. The field is competitive even among writers who are willing to be so narrow as to write within the bounds of identity politics and politically correct sentiments. But a writer has more of a shot at being granted a hearing by restricting himself to the dictates of despotism than if he wrote a novel to rival The Scarlet Letter or Moby Dick. If the few writers who are brave enough to march outside the border of Canada’s Marxist parade square may be labeled ‘insular’ or ‘hidebound’ in some sense (p. 206), how much more are they insular and hidebound who dare not cross the perimeter into the domain of free thoughts that the establishment has proscribed? In Canada it is still true that the best chance for a writer to be noticed and acclaimed is through the medium of the public broadcaster—“the media still being the only objective measure of any wider public interest” (p. 227.) The CBC is the chief spokesman of socialism; along with other mainstream media, it hastens Canada down the current of moral declension as fast it can, no matter how many conservative voters there are and no matter what party is first in Ottawa. Their daily decree is for everyone to speak and write as though each unit of the multi-culture is honorable except the one that looks like John A. Macdonald and that eschews perversions, which unit happens to be the largest block of Canadian voters. 

The books that are reviewed in Revolutions have been marked ‘approved’ by the Canadian literary establishment. What are they about? They’re about Canada (p. 158)—I guess because being ‘insular’ is a requirement. They’re about blasting those pesky ‘prejudices’ and ‘stereotypes’ (pp. 169, 219)—the ones, no doubt, that involve judging and generalizing according to common sense and a sense of decency. They’re about Indians, immigrants, racial minorities, women, and lesbians (pp. 220-224.) They’re about feminism—about despising men (pp. 179, 191.) In Atwood’s Blind Assassin, Iris is ‘privileged, bitter, abrasive, and self-pitying’ (p. 65.) That is the spirit of Atwood, of minority victimhood, and of every feminist in every story that is written by a feminist (my opinion, not Good’s.) “To be white and male is, for the most part, to have no ‘identity’” (p. 222); in other words, white male writers are systematically shunned. As for white male characters—conservative ones in particular—they must be presented as cruel patriarchs, which is one reason (my opinion, not necessarily Good’s) why Atwood’s fantasies are ‘off-target’ (p. 85.) Take her Handmaid’s Tale for example, and let a student speak (from an Amazon review) who was made to read it: “I read The Handmaid’s Tale as a school project. I found it to be poorly written and incredibly boring. The book doesn’t have much of a plot…The author seems to say, ‘This is what will happen if we let those…Republicans in office!!’” Without having to check, I know that the evil 1984-ish society in this novel is not on the left, even though despotic societies are almost always on the left, including Hitler’s socialist party and the KKK. Students don’t know this though. Why not make the Saracens the villains? That would be both historical and prophetic. In the giant Petri dish that is the 21st century school system, students have little more literal knowledge of history than they get at home or online; some of them will believe, then, if made to read the propaganda that is an Atwood novel, that whenever white men have had the chance, they have oppressed women to a worse degree than what is done in the most oppressive countries in the Islamic world. Obviously, when anthologies of Canadian literature are put together for students to be taught by, identity politics is a prime consideration. “Merit, as we’ve seen, isn’t up for debate” (pp. 216, 240, 241.) This anti-white, anti-male pattern is identity prejudice, and it is as widespread as the CBC and the rest of the literary establishment can make it. Is this not one reason why the jury (of which Atwood was a member) for the Giller Prize could state that the thirteen books on the longlist told stories ‘in remarkable familiar ways’? (pp. 155, 156.) Identity politics narratives are not realistic. Here is an example from what I gathered out of one of Good’s reviews. The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud is about a dejected middle-aged woman who is swept off her feet by a pretty young lesbian whose name is ‘Sirena Shahid’ (a Muslim, obviously.) The woman to whom Mr. Good suggested the book, said that she didn’t like it. Why didn’t she like it? “You see, she knew schoolteachers and none of the schoolteachers that she knew were like Nora” (p. 194.) That which is not plausible is not compelling; no wonder that the Canadian multitudes won’t go near Canadian literary fiction. They are not like Nora either. They cannot identify with identity politics fantasies. When exceptions are made the rule for the purpose of legislating for exceptions, normal Canadians would rather opt out.    

What happens when implausible fiction is forced to the top, to be then forced down upon the public? Let one more Amazon reviewer speak—again, about Atwood’s out-of-touch book: “This is one of those annoying books you are forced to read at school…Well, I hated it the first time, finding it dull, repetitive and vague. After having to read it three times…I can honestly say I shiver at the sight of it and my copy was put to its best use last summer...as something to burn on the barbecue. That really is the only place for it.” There are positive reviews of the book. But that a nefarious motive is at work is obvious from the fact that a student could be assigned an ‘off-target’ book three times during the course of his or her way through school. This is nothing less than Communist-style brainwashing. 

Counterfeit novels that are passed off as legitimate successors to classics ought to be rejected. Being negative about pseudo-literature that has been crowned by the establishment is something that is not tolerated by the hypocritical tolerance preachers in Communist Canada (my term, not Good’s.) “At the university it seems that the only duty is to ‘toe the line’ or be fired” (p. 231.) An anthology editor faces the same threat (p. 230.) It is the same again for the column-writer (p. p. 232.) Isn’t Canada broad and free? Academics and publishers mutually pledge to not ‘rock the boat’ (p. 236.) A university professor comes under fire because he teaches no texts by women writers in his course (p. 179.) He has nerve added to nerve, for he teaches ‘not much on the Canadian front’ (p. 180.) He is an exception surely. “Many of our best-known newspapers and literary journals have explicit, and public, strictures against ‘going negative’” (p. 37.) Anyone who has participated on social media has felt the pressure to self-censure. Self-censuring is so common that when non-progressives refuse to do it, the new Communists are shocked, and become threatening. The institutions that generate and empower the hysterical fury have been controlling what we read and publish in Canada for as long as anyone alive can remember. A good rule of thumb (mine, not Good’s, manifestly) is to decline each book on the basis of the first dirty word or impure innuendo that is found in it. In light of the smut that is pushed in our schools, students ought to rely on reviews or Cole’s Notes. It seems common for students to not read their course books, anyway (p. 16.) It isn’t difficult to find a scholar in a major university arguing that it is better to read nothing at all. This strategy is called ‘distant reading’ (Ibid.) 

When ‘value judgments’ are disallowed (pp. 39, 239), no one’s opinion about a book is valid or invalid (p. 34.) Therefore, why read? Or, when a book is unsatisfactory—in this case Ondaatje’s Divisadero, a reader (Sandra Martin) might just say that part of a writer’s genius is to not give you what you want (p. 146.) When value judgments are no longer acceptable, a judge (Sandra Martin) of books comes up with something like this for a criterion: “I want to be taken to a place I can believe in” (Ibid.) Her other two criteria are similarly vague. To judge on the basis of eloquence, figures of speech, cohesion, thematic weight—is out. It has to be out if a person has been programmed to praise books that are inartistically written and make no sense. Near the end of 1984, this is “to make articulate speech to issue from the larynx without involving the higher brain centers at all.” The one fact along the history of degeneration in literature (especially noticeable in the history of pedagogy in France) is the progressive repudiation of established knowledge. In exchange for this repudiation, God bestows the ‘reprobate mind’ (Romans 1.28.) Romans 1 is singularly apropos, for it is the divine verdict upon the identity experiment that we are undergoing. 

Revolutions tells a depressing tale—a true story of present-day literary dystopia. On one pessimistic note, though, Mr. Good certainly errs—if he agrees (he seems to) with the statement that he quotes on page 254 that there are only ‘10,000 serious readers in the U.S.’ That figure is hard to believe since Mark Levin sold over one million copies of Liberty and Tyranny in just a few years’ time. It may be that, like Philip Roth, most readers have wizened up (p. 22), having exchanged fiction for non-fiction. It is in regards to the quality, not popularity, of contemporary literary fiction, that Alex Good’s judgment errs the most and most often. Even after being shocked at the sight of what was nominated for the 2013 Giller Prize, he says that “2013 was a great year for Canadian fiction” (p. 207.) This opinion occurs more than once, and concerns the Giller (p. 155.) In his own irritating word, or should I say, paragraph:

‘Huh?’

Ondaatje is a good poet (p. 66.)

‘Huh?’

Both he and Atwood have ‘made significant contributions to Canadian literature’ (p. 72.)

‘Huh?’

There is an example on page 195 of what Alex Good thinks is great prose. All that is going on there is a long sentence that is well punctuated so that it may be readily understood. Great prose is more than that—more than lucidity through able punctuation. Good’s reaction to one of the books that was nominated for the Giller in 2013 manifests his valuation more distinctly. Lisa Moore’s Caught sometimes has, he says, three or four ‘wonderful’ sentences ‘on a single page,’ but three or four awful ones ‘on the same page’ (p. 190.) He calls this level of craft ‘decent,’ by which word he likely means ‘good’ or even ‘great,’ for her book was part of 2013’s ‘great’ Giller year. Yes, that’s a great year for fiction! What a great year when a book with three or four ‘awful’ (slipshod) sentences can be found on a single page! More discriminating readers would call that just another rotten year—if more discriminating readers even bothered to read Giller-level books past page 10 or so, that is.      
   
Alex Good’s prose is especially irksome when it is disrespectful: “And as for Terry Pratchett, he dead” (p. 34.) That statement takes up a whole paragraph, by the way, adding irritation to irksomeness. The following sentence could have been written by Michael Ondaatje: “Superfluous lagged the veterans on the stage” (p. 72.) That said, he concludes his chapters effectively (pp. 88, 148.) His best moment is when he compares ‘aging literary lions’ to “…punch-drunk…pot-bellied boxers coming out of retirement…clobbered around the ring and into dementia….” (p. 61.) 

Based on the exposure that current prose is put to in this book, no reader should clobber himself by reading literary fiction that is newer than one hundred years old. Current highfalutin literature is ineptly written, routinely indecent, and purposely wanting a distinct storyline. For the reader, it is best to stick with the classics (p. 243.) By classics, Mr. Good might mean Atwood’s and Ondaatje’s early work; but by classic, I mean novels like Vanity Fair by Thackeray in the mid-1800s and The History of Rasselas by Samuel Johnson in 1759. Genuine classics are books that ‘educate, elevate, delight, and even change life’ (Jean-Christophe Valtat, p. 260.) Rather than write what is most likely to be accepted by base publishers and immoral media corporations, it is best for a writer to try to write a classic—if the writer can think of doing nothing else with his talent and time. More immediately, there is a need for competent, honest critics. When professional critics have shirked their duty, volunteers need to step into that gap (p. 235), just as volunteers must do the work that pastors haven’t the dedication to do. To write against the establishment’s narrative, sets a writer up for obscurity. On the one hand, that kind of writer is not welcomed by mainstream publishers and the mainstream media; on the other hand, online media is commonly censored and mom-and-pop publishers are afraid of being sued for publishing anything that is not commended by those who have the power, to a large degree, to decide what Canadians will write and read. There is something especially satisfying about writing out of love for truth, beauty, and goodness more than for sales and fame, even if no one will ever read what one has written. Self-improvement by writing is a noble work. A concern for the worth of what one writes ought to eclipse the anxiety to have one’s writings read.        

In case this review ends up on Amazon and in case Mr. Good wants to know why I gave him two stars out of five: he loses one star for his lack of penetration; he loses another for his foul language; and he loses yet another for quoting pornographic expressions. Yes, folks, novels containing pornographic subject matter are in the running for major literary prizes in Canada. That’s how ‘progressive’ we are. Good’s book is an indecent exposure of Canada’s foul literary scene; there is nothing remotely approaching to genius in the book; and the crass tone does not suit a literary critic. 




1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well stated. Can't disagree with any of it.