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"The stories in HW/EC do center around a single protagonist (fairly transparently, Edmond Caldwell)..."

I must say I'm astonished that *you*, of all people, would make such a statement, Dan. Doesn't the auto-bio-fallacy violate a fundamental tenet of TRE's mission statement? In any case, the error is a tribute to EC (whose life and face are rather different from the protag's) as the master of a persuasive technique.

Also: your quibble with Edmond's supposed pro-Palestine agitprop; does it strike you as agitprop because we're all so conditioned to accept the opposite political POV as a Universal?

I don't believe that actually paying attention to "Arabs" with empathy, nuance and aesthetic panache (for a change) is the same as climbing on a soapbox to cheapen Art. If so, Ulysses is Joyce being guilty of cheapening Art in the service of agitprop for Parnell... which, actually, I'm sure some readers may have felt at the time. The question being: what kind of readers?

You write:

**Edmond Caldwell's Human Wishes/Enemy Combatant (Say It With Stones) is a much worthier and more accomplished book than 99% of what is published as "literary fiction" by most "name" publishers. It takes numerous risks, both formally and thematically, but it also manages to be entertaining without conceding to conventional notions of plot arcs or backstory or "fine writing."**

And I agree! EC mailed me a copy and I received it with the standard fear that it would be good enough, obviously (EC is no dummy or tyro) but that I'd feel pressured to finish the damned thing and say something pithy about the chore. Instead, I had to rub my eyes and ask myself, over and over again, if it really was as good as it seemed... chapter after chapter.

EC's ability to horrify and amuse *simultaneously* is unmatched by anything I've read since publishing went to Hell (40 years ago?) and the transitions were almost pharmaceutically smooth. Certainly, Littell (in "The Kindly Ones") comes close, in passages, to matching EC's horror/comedy gift but the balance is rougher, the halves discrete. EC pulls off the neat trick (like a proper Existentialist) of making the two feel synonymous.

I admit to being slightly worried about the JWood passage, too (but you should know that it *predates* EC's CJW blog)... a weensy quibble... but, overall, I was genuinely thrilled/relieved/amazed to be able to *gush* about a book, for a change.

Here's the twist: by the time I finished it, my delight turned to anger. So many mediocre books by so many big-name hacks out there, and they all get so much press, and such respectable advances and so many hype-bedazzled readers! Add that to the injustices that "Human Wishes/Enemy Combatant" won't allow us to adjust to.

And thank you very much, Dan, for giving this fine book your attention.

I think my judgment of the overall quality of the book is pretty clear from the first paragraph.

Since you're familiar with TRE's mission statement, surely it *doesn't* surprise you that I would have some problems with those parts of the book "bordering on agitprop." Bordering.

Dan, if you consider The Tin Drum, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The Ghost Writer, The Human Stain, The Innocent, American Pastoral, Slaughterhouse Five, Operation Shylock, et al, as "bordering on agitprop" because they all present characters in (and created by) historical-political situations in which these situations are not merely backdrops but moral contexts and plot devices as well, then, fine. I'm glad you appreciate the overall quality of the book, I just think it's weird that you can do so while dismissing its core as "bordering on agitprop".

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About

  • Daniel Green is a literary critic and sometime fiction writer. His reviews, critical essays, and fiction have appeared in a variety of publications, both online and in print. He has a Ph.D focusing on postwar American fiction and an M.A. in creative writing.