Hatchet Jobs: Writings on Contemporary Fiction

ISBN: 1595580271
ISBN 13: 9781595580276
By: Dale Peck

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About this book

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.

Reader's Thoughts


I read this book because I dislike most contemporary literary fiction. So does this author. So I was hoping that I would learn more about why I hate most novels published within the last few years. Unfortunately these essays are mostly bitter, mean, and stupid, which is a shame, because many of them contain well-reasoned investigations of various authors.The best essay was, to me, a sort of elegy for Kurt Vonnegut (which is strange, because he wasn't dead when this was published). I completely agreed with most of Dale Peck's assessment of Vonnegut, whose characters grapple with the futility of free will in the face of a chaotic and indifferent universe. Peck makes the point that Vonnegut's early novels contain "tragic heroes" who refuse to accept the absurdity of their existences, whereas in his later novels his main (often autobiographical) characters mostly surrender to either absurdity or death. Which effectively renders them (and him) impotent. Also, Sapphire got a half a million advance for Push? Seriously?


Not only does Peck review books, providing criticism and analysis, but he criticizes critics and reviews book reviews.Hehe.He says nasty things about writers and reviewers. Tehe.It's all very rousing and silly in an entertaining way. Plus it's short and small and fits in the front pocket of my brown corduroy jacket.


talked about it here: http://5cense.com/earth.htm


I just finished reading this for the second time. For people who pay attention, Peck made a huge name for himself a few years ago when he starting swinging like crazy at writers he thought were wasting their talent, including his infamous line about Rick Moody being "the worst writer of his generation." I like him because, like James Wood, he actually cares about what's going on with books, not just getting a paycheck for writing his essay. This is one of those collections that add up to a mission statement about art instead of a grab bag of one-offs.

Avis Black

I agree with him in principle but his execution lacks chop.


MY FAIRLY DULL 30 DAY FACEBOOK CHALLENGE So if I was "on Facebook" as they say, I'd have done this. You have to name a book in these 30 categories. Here goesDay 1: Favorite bookBad start - there's no such animal. But let's say Ulysses. Day 2: Least favorite bookOh, I know this one - American Psycho. But Topping from Below runs it close second.Day 3: Book that makes you laugh out loudThe Innocent Anthropologist by Nigel Barley will do. Also Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh. Day 4: Book that makes you crySuch a Long Journey, Rohinton MistryDay 5: Book you wish you could live inThe Fermata by Nicholson Baker but only if I could be the despicable Arno Strine.Day 6: Favorite young adult bookTitus GroanDay 7: Book that you can quote/reciteBoth Incredible String Band songbooks and a bit of Beautiful Losers (Leonard Cohen). Also bits of the Bible.Day 8: Book that scares youAmerican Psycho - it scares me that reasonably intelligent people can think that it's satire and that makes it okayDay 9: Book that makes you sickSo many, so many, but let's go for The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a bit obvious I know. The Mad Man by Samuel Delaney was fairly trying too. Topping from below, of course - the dog scene was a classic.Day 10: Book that changed your lifeSomething Wicked this way Comes by Ray Bradbury.Day 11: Book from your favorite authorI suppose Rohinton Mistry is my current favourite author, so A Fine Balance.Day 12: Book that is most like your lifeIn terms of job, and not having read it but read about it, Microserfs by Douglas Coupland.Day 13: Book whose main character is most like youThe Bible Part Two (aka New testament) - Doubting ThomasDay 14: Book whose main character you want to marryThe Crimson Petal and the White - Sugar - she's so nice - except she turns into a same sex oriented person eventually. So that would be like Ross in Friends. So perhaps not. Okay - I know - Kate from The Country Girls (Edna O'Brien) - she's hilarious and in my mind she's a knockout too.Day 15: First “chapter book” you can remember reading as a childEr - huh? Meaning not a picture book? I think it would be one of the many William books.Day 16: Longest book you’ve readThe Quincunx.Day 17: Shortest book you’ve readWhat a silly question - the shortest book I currently have is Giving Up by Jillian Becker which is about the last week in the life of Sylvia Plath - 48 pages. Big print too.Day 18: Book you’re most embarrassed to say you likeTrue crime , all the way! Hell Ranch! Day 19: Book that turned you onSigh - do I have to answer this? - no? Okay, next -Day 20: Book you’ve read the most number of timesThe Circus of Dr Lao by Charles FinneyDay 21: Favorite picture book from childhoodNone, I was very deprivedDay 22: Book you plan to read nextThe Time of our Singing, maybe.Day 23: Book you tell people you’ve read, but haven’t (or haven’t actually finished)As if! What do you take me for!Day 24: Book that contains your favorite sceneThis is a stupid question - favourite scene? Well, I did think the involuntary Bobbitting of the boyfriend scene in The World According to Garp was extremely memorable.Day 25: Favorite book you read in schoolCan't remember.Day 26: Favorite nonfiction bookThe Earth from the Air.Day 27: Favorite fiction bookToo many to mention. Day 28: Last book you readTopping from BelowDay 29: Book you’re currently readingAll Hell Let LooseDay 30: Favorite coffee table bookVictorian Painting, Lionel Lambourne**Wow, that was kind of boring - I could think of better questions than those. Anyone care to do the PB Goodreads Instant Challenge?What's the author you most recently wanted to kill?What's your favourite book cover?What's the ugliest book cover you've seen recently?What's the most ridiculous place you've ever tried to read?Who's the sexiest author?Why do you despair at the state of the contemporary novel?What would YOU have given the Booker to, since you say all the actual winners are such crap?What's the last thing you found squashed between the pages of a book?What's the last argument you had about a book?What's your weirdest book story?


An awful bunch of tantrums, written solely to garner the author some brief attention. I think he's writing teenage vampire sci-fi novels now, which, enough said.


Some readers have complained that this aptly titled work isn't as meaningful or useful as B. R. Myers' A READER'S MANIFESTO and I agree, but I still enjoy Peck's eviscerations of what passes for contemporary American literature. (The one recent book he discusses that I've read, Sven Birkerts' GUTENBERG ELEGIES, I liked more than he did but I have no problem taking his word for how awful most of the others are.) In my view, Peck runs into trouble when he attempts a deeper analysis of what went wrong with fiction, making James Joyce his pet villain. Seems Joyce (so says Peck) showed real promise when he wrote "The Dead" but then darn it, he got self-indulgent and blew it with A PORTRAIT and ULYSSES. Peck ignores, or misses, some key points here, such as (A) Joyce wrote only four works of fiction, so rather than having a lot of works to deal with, his readers have a few works to deal with, albeit works that must be dealt with intensely if one is to understand them at all. (B) With Joyce, it's "in for a penny, in for a pound." If you don't want to spend a lot of time on critical thinking you should read other writers. (C) No one had to be influenced by Joyce who didn't want to be. And of course, (D)it's not Joyce's fault if later writers weren't, or aren't as good as he was. Peck is a born hatchet man and that's fine, as long as he doesn't try to be a constructive critic.


While it's wrong to laud a critic merely for agreeing with me, that's what I'm going to do.Peck doesn't really assert these points so much as posit them on his way to dismember his contemporaries, but since I find them excellent literary axioms, I'll repeat them:-James Joyce's collection Dubliners--particularly the story "The Dead"--is one of the best in the prose fiction canon, but by Ulysses he is setting a pretty poor example.-Thomas Pynchon is undeniably a fantastic writer but his his novels don't come together as anything approaching a cohesive whole.-The folks who started postmodernism understood the difference between identification and projection, but most practitioners today work without this distinction, which while very convenient for them, is very boring to read.-The critic Sven Birkerts is overrated.


He really dislikes some of the authors I like (DFW and Jonathan Franzen), but Peck has a sharp critical eye and a very engaging/caustic style. There is a very complimentary essay on Kurt Vonnegut at the end of the book, though, and that warmed my heart. I'm glad he doesn't hate everything.


Here we have Dale Peck doing the fish slapping dance with a few of his literary contemporaries, and I love it. They have to stand there rigid and appearing to be unconcerned while sprightly Dale hops around, derides them horribly, and slaps their chops with a large haddock. I would give this book 5 stars, but mostly, Dale is beating up on authors I haven't read and - now! - have no intention of reading, so it's mostly somebody else's (beautifully invectivised) argument. The authors here dissected, filleted and grossly insulted who I never read are :Sven BirkertsColson WhiteheadJamaica KincaidTerry McMillanJim CraceStanley CrouchRick Moodyand the ones I have read areDFWKurt VonnegutJulian BarnesSapphirePhilip RothSo I guess this is the hipster version of B R Myers' A Reader's Manifesto which denounced certain American literary authors for their pretensions and general wanky unreadability. Here's Dale speaking generally :even taking into consideration the theory that cinematic and virtual media have displaced the printed word as the dominant narrative form and that the novel and its grown-too-big-for-its-britches sibling, the memoir, are only occasionally profitable anachronisms; even recognising that literary standards and technological advances have made it theoretically feasible for just about anyone to write and publish a book [Dale was writing in 2004] - even considering all these factors, the number of Stepford novels that are written, published, reviewed, and read every year is completely out of control. ....Blame the writing programs and the prize committees, blame the deconstructionist literary critics or the back-patting Siamese-twinned professions of writing and reviewing fiction, blame any or all of the identity communities who read and write those ethnic-or-gender-marketed booster books or blame the dead white European males who forced us to resort to Literature as our Daily Affirmation in the first place. And here's a flavour of his specific charges - first, against Stanley Crouch :Crouch is neither virtuosic nor possessed of good marksmanship; he's just another demagogue in an age that confuses demagoguery with honesty; a black man who uses the veil of anti-pc polemic to make criticisms of black culture that white Americans are either too cowed or too smart to put forth themselves... suffice it to say that here is one black man calling other black men monkeys, denying blackness to those African Americans who fail to live up to his standards and conferring it on those who do. ... Don't the Moon Look Lonesome is a terrible novel, badly conceived, badly executed, and put forward in bad faith...and now David Foster Wallace :What makes Infinite Jest's success even more noteworthy is that it is, in a word, terrible. Other words I might use include bloated, boring, gratuitous and - perhaps especially - uncontrolled. I would, in fact, go so far as to say that infinite Jest is one of the very few novels for which the phrase "not worth the paper it's printed on" has real meaning at least in an ecological sense; but to resort to such hyperbole would be to fall into the rut that characterizes many reviews of this novel... I resent the five weeks of my life I gave over to reading the thing; I resent every endlessly over-elaborated gag in the book, like a ten-page riff on why video telephones are unviable, or the dozen pages on the teenager who won all his tennis matches by playing with a pistol held to his head, or the thousands and thousands and thousands of words devoted to pharmaceutical trivia on all sorts of mind-altering drugs.... I could, a la Edward Said, accuseWallace of cultural colonialism in the peppering of his otherwise exclusively white male text with exoticized African-Americans, women, and homosexuals, and, further, I think the case can be made that the narrative technique Wallace has derived from Pynchon is nothing more than a watered-down de(homo)-eroticized style that lives on Sontag's "barren edge of Camp".You may not agree with Dale, but I still recommed his book, because for some of us bookish types, it's the nearest thing to a bracing walk in a drench of freezing rain on a cliff path with crumbly edges and no guard rail.


Don't read this and then try to write anything, ever.The first piece is hilarious, a long-deserved crucifixion of the unconscionably boring Sven Birkerts; but then I stopped laughing when I hit the subsequent reviews, in which he CARVES INTO Wallace, Franzen, Moody, DeLillo, et al. Oh, and Joyce. And Faulkner.Also, for someone who's so high and mighty about English syntax, he can at times write confusingly. There are oddly murky places in the prose, in sharp contrast to the sizzling lacerating wit which flares up like moths hitting a live wire. I wish I could corner him at a party and pepper him with all kinds of rude questions. But somehow I don't think Dale gets invited to many parties anymore. Unless as an entrée.

Bookmarks Magazine

There is some truth to Peck's claim that his critics are more interested in "the possibility of a brawl" than in what he has to say about today's fiction. Reviewers say they can't fathom how the highly regarded author of the novel Now It's Time to Say Goodbye and What We Lost, the story of his father's 1950s childhood, has the audacity to vilify his colleagues. Although reviewers feel scandalized, disgusted, or fascinated by his sweeping condemnations (is Rick Moody really "the worst writer of his generation"?), most focus more on Peck's vulgarities than on the content of his critiques. Of the minority who confess that they looked twice at his reviews, many agree that they are entertaining, incisive, and worth all the hype. This is an excerpt from a review published in Bookmarks magazine.


A nasty, boring book in which someone whose talent appears to have sputtered out years previously, attempted to gain some notoriety by taking a hatchet to the work of others. Sour grapes much, Dale? At least Jonathan Franzen has some talent to back up his obnoxious public persona. With this author there's all the obnoxiousness and very little talent.


i laughed out-loud throughout. it's the antidote to acclaimed and terrible contemporary writers.

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