Pecked to Death

Returning to a topic from way back: Dale Peck, who wields the book review like a truncheon, has published a collection of his articles, entitled, appropriately, Hatchet Jobs (note the subtlety of the cover!). Peck, should you have forgotten, or should you have missed it in the first place, was the author of the following bit of tempered criticism:

Rick Moody is the worst writer of his generation.

And, on the state of contemporary fiction more generally:

All I’m suggesting is that these writers (and their editors) see themselves as the heirs to a bankrupt tradition. A tradition that began with the diarrheic flow of words that is Ulysses; continued on through the incomprehensible ramblings of late Faulkner and the sterile inventions of Nabokov; and then burst into full, foul life in the ridiculous dithering of Barth and Hawkes and Gaddis, and the reductive cardboard constructions of Barthelme, and the word-by-word wasting of a talent as formidable as Pynchon’s; and finally broke apart like a cracked sidewalk beneath the weight of the stupid — just plain stupid — tomes of DeLillo.

There’s something a bit breathtaking about such an intentionally provocative position, but something risky, too; if you’re going to call the writers whom many feel are the century’s greatest “incomprehensible,” “ridiculous,” “reductive,” and “stupid — just plain stupid,” you’d best have some genius of your own with which to back it up.

As one might have expected, Peck’s Hatchet Jobs are producing a response in kind: Carlin Romero, in this week’s Chronicle of Higher Education fires back, reading Peck through the history of literary snark, coming to an almost inevitable conclusion:

Dale Peck is not the worst critic of his generation. He’s simply the worst to have his essays gathered in book form.

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