Comments on the paperback release of Brooke Allen's "Twentieth Century Attitudes: Literary Powers in Uncertain Times": a book of essays about literature. Ms. Allen is a regular contributor to NEW CRITERION and other little-read snob journals.
The collection is the Lou Rawls of literature: Reading to nod off to.
Allen is reviewing her subjects not because of any love or hate of them, but because they're approved topics: Wharton; Woolf; John Barth; and such. One essay is titled, "The Voice of a New Century: Colette." Oh, THAT century. The book's title says it all-- this is writing about and for the Past. Not one new thought attitude revelation subject will be found. One can see the layers of dust. Allen's audience after all is not the new reader, or the current reader, but the mandarin reader-- a clique of cultural dinosaurs in bow-ties who've generously published Ms. Allen's tired dry turgid work.
Allen's observations are distinctly lukewarm. On Saul Bellow: "Emotional honesty is not Bellow's strong suit." Every statement of hers is hedged: "generally"; "perhaps"; "leads one to suspect"; "doesn't seem to"; "they tend to"; "an unmixed blessing"; "shared a penchant for"; "it's hard to argue with"; "possibly because. . . ."
Brooke Allen's writing is the essence of mediocrity; snoozer criticism at its worst.
Dangling Man: "didn't begin to make Bellow's fortune. . . ."
Augie March: "a successful ploy if a little too conscious for all tastes. . . ."
Seize the Day: "garnered impressive critical notice."
Herzog: "not emotionally credible. . . ."
Mr. Sammler's Planet: "an odd, unfocused novel."
Ravelstein: "a surprisingly decent novel."
How did the novelist ever gain his status as "our senior litterateur"? There must be more to him than this!
Why is Ms. Allen reviewing a book about him? Why has this careful essay made it into her collection? Because other essays of hers are worse?