In spite of how good the title of this collection is, first published in 1982 by the write Diane Johnson, the essays that follow rarely break ground on ideas that go beyond interesting enough. The collection mostly deals with writers and figures from the 1970s and earlier (a few earlier brought back into conversation by dint books about them), but mostly contemporary to the publishing. This actually makes this collection a lot more interesting not for what it says, but as a kind of artifact about the literary conversations being had at the time. Things that were en vogue include: what’s Norman Mailer up to these days with all this hyper-realistic/journalistic fiction? who’s this hot new thing Don Delillo now entering into his second phase of his career (pre-dating White Noise, Mao II, and Libra), what’s the deal with this second Erica Jong novel?. Some more perennial questions are: wait, why is Joan Didion spending more and more time writing fiction? And so forth.
I don’t feel like saying anything mean here because all the essays are earnest, and only once did I feel a prickle of being on edge (when discussing the work of Toni Morrison, Gayl Jones, and James Allen McPherson) because it involved a white woman discussing the roles Black men play in the violence against Black women, and well, I am not clear we wouldn’t simply read Toni Morrison and Gayl Jones on that topic.
All of these were published in NYRB and well, sometimes that publication is also dry as hell, if interesting. And well, here we are. The collection begins with a review of Sleepless Nights by Elizabeth Hardwick, and I think there’s some chasing after Hardwick’s amazing nonfiction here.