The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature
Reviewed by Clay Smith, Fri., Oct. 27, 2000
The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literatureby Neal Pollack
McSweeney's Books, 156 pp., $16
Neal Pollack is a three-time winner of the National Book Award (The Brutal, Racist Murder of Wally Trumbull; Give Spain a Chance; Hell Here on Earth, Volume II) with a lucrative job at a major television network. At the age of 12, this Internet celebrity who is a doctor learned the lovemaking skills necessary for becoming a successful magazine writer and by the fourth grade had written an essay titled, "Does Faulkner Write Too Many Novels?" He drafted San Franciso's domestic partnership ordinance, even though he's straight. He has also been to Paris.
Satire is a lamentably rare occurrence in present-day publishing. Satire of writers and journalists seems even rarer. Pollack's m.o. is to create a figure -- himself -- who is the undisputed king of American letters, and he's on absolutely everyone's mind at all times. Absolutely everyone. At first, the author's target appears to be someone old and notable like Gore Vidal. "My grandfather was an esteemed senator from Texas," Pollack writes in his introduction. "Through the marriages of various relatives, I came to be related to the Kennedys, the Rockefellers, the Hefners, and William Shawn."
Soon enough, though, Pollack widens his scope, and it becomes pointless to guess who he's plucking for examination because that person is any writer who thinks his ideas are the most insightful, the most poignant -- in short, the greatest the world has ever known. In "It Is Easy to Take a Woman in Cuba," Pollack describes being sent to Cuba to write about "what it's like to visit Cuba on assignment from a prominent American magazine." Apparently, even though Pollack is quite busy penning brilliant novels and filing crucial articles, he also has time to be very macho; every woman who meets him wants him, particularly a customs officer in Cuba who "removes her uniform top." "Her breasts are like milk," Pollack writes, "or cream. No. More like eggs, or perhaps a combination of the three. They are a kind of breast custard." The satire -- whether of hackneyed journalistic techniques, or writing that is overblown and stupid, or just literary ego -- is always specific. There are layers of hilarity, and it's a delight to read comedy written by someone who has taken the time to disguise jokes within jokes and to create a book of humor that requires as close a read as books that receive the kind of praise that Pollack is lampooning. Too much is made of Pollack's awareness of his own greatness -- there are so many instances where Pollack tells you how wonderful he is that it ceases to be funny -- but the entire lot of the people he's satirizing are so ripe for the picking, that almost doesn't seem to matter.
Neal Pollack will be at BookPeople on Friday, October 27, at 7pm.