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The Fun Stuff: And Other Essays

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Wood doesn’t give his opinions and reactions as much play as, for instance, as a just as professional but less beholden author might – the Nobel prize-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk, for example, or the late John Updike. He’s got a job to do, which is to say he measures his audience and tries to bring us up to speed, which I can’t help thinking puts us into the mode of graduate seminar students in the presence of a youngish brilliant professor: there’s no discussion. Wood is not conversing with us, we’re just supposed to listen to him riff: “I suspect that [Lydia Davis’s] prose will in time be seen as one of the great, strange American literary contributions, distinct and crookedly personal, in the way of the work of Flannery O’Connor, or Donald Barthelme, or J. F. Powers.” His judgments are impressive, but too often, he has killed and mounted his response rather than described it fluttering before him. That’s his default eagerness to cover himself and his subject, which he well knows has its drawbacks: “Sometimes one despises oneself, in near middle age, for still being such a merely good student." We wish his criticism were riskier, more alive, less mindful of being good and responsible.

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