Dale Peck

Dale Peck‘s novels include The Law of Enclosures and Fucking Martin (or, in the US, Martin and John).

Old Codger

Dale Peck, 11 December 1997

Kurt Vonnegut’s latest book, and, according to its author, his last, is almost impossible to appreciate without extensive knowledge of his previous work. As far as I can tell, this is deliberate and it can be considered a flaw or a virtue depending on one’s view of writing in general and Kurt Vonnegut in particular. But one thing is clear: if you’re not familiar with the characters who have populated Vonnegut’s writing since, say, 1965 – including Vonnegut himself and his fictional alter ego Kilgore Trout – Timequake will seem to be nothing more than a few salvaged fragments from an abandoned project glued together with autobiographical sketches and aphorisms. Timequake One, as Vonnegut calls the original book, seems to have started out as just another Vonnegut novel, but Timequake Two, as he calls the finished product, has been reconceived as the legend to the Vonnegut map, less a final act than a curtain call, a thin rubber band holding together the braided but distinct strands of a 45-year career and a 75-year life.’

Dangerous Girls

Dale Peck, 3 July 1997

Most readers, it seems, are willing and able to construct complete narratives from even the tiniest snippets of information, whether in the form of lazily written genre fiction or in the artful dodging of post-realist writers: a dynamic is created between the limited information the writer can supply – literally, just the words on the page – and the knowledge about how life is lived which the reader brings to those words. I’m thinking here of the obfuscation of the Victorians, especially James; of the essays and novels of Joan Didion, which both forbid and implore the reader to bring his own version of the story to the events at hand; of the seemingly bland fare of Raymond Carver’s fiction, offered in full awareness that the reader will sit down at table with his own salt and pepper.’

In the Box

Dale Peck, 6 February 1997

Every once in a while a reviewer is fortunate enough to find in his hands three or four or five books whose shared aesthetic and thematic concerns mark a distinct shift from those which have preceded them, and which afford the reviewer the singular privilege of announcing a new school of writing. It’s an idea, an image really, which has attracted me ever since I read Edmund Wilson’s early reviews of Stein, Hemingway, Woolf and Joyce; here was a man who, in the course of meeting his weekly deadline, just happened to chart the birth of Modernism. Oh sure, there was an element of luck involved – how often does a Ulysses just drop onto your desk? – but there was a certain skill on Wilson’s part too; an eye keen enough to discern new genius and a voice skilled enough to schill for the new literature without being shrill about it. Still, it’s not something a critic can plan for. Revolutions in the way literature is made occur maybe once or twice in a lifetime; and it takes such truly seismic shifts to spur the critical establishment to recognise the new movement. Modernism and Post-Modernism are the last two such radical restructurings of literary taste that I can think of, and the latter, depending on how you date it, is at least a half-century old. It sort of begs the question, doesn’t it? I mean, isn’t it time for something new?’

Well, duh

Dale Peck, 18 July 1996

The US literary world can be divided into two camps: those who think Thomas Pynchon is a very clever guy, and those who also think he’s a great writer. As it happens, I’m of the former camp. While I admit that Pynchon’s writing is packed with all sorts of ideas, ultimately the novels strike me as more crudités than smorgasbord: the appetisers keep coming (and coming, and coming), but the main course never arrives. Pynchon’s hallmarks are his tentacular – I might almost say his amorphous – prose, which can and does snare just about any philosophical concept or pop cultural phenomenon in its grasp; and his sense of satire, which can be awfully funny if your taste runs to broad humour. Neither of these traits is necessarily ruinous, but it’s Pynchon’s particular conflation of them that can limit his appeal. Given a choice between pathos and bathos, Pynchon errs on the side of farcical melodrama again and again (and again), and while I admire him for his efforts to undermine traditional narrative tyranny with humour rather than resorting to a Barth-style hatchet job, all four of his novels offer the same one-dimensional commentary on contemporary US society, and, in the end, a thirty-year writing career hasn’t produced a single memorable or even recognisably human character.’’

Tacky Dress

Dale Peck, 22 February 1996

At some point early in the Aids epidemic – this would have been around 1983, a time when no gay man in the United States knew when or even if he would fall ill with the complex of maladies that had begun killing gay men in 1981, a time when, as well, it seemed most gay men regarded the rallies and protests and clandestine gatherings of the Fifties and Sixties as logically capped by the disco-circuit hedonism of the Seventies, and a time when many of those men still seemed to view any attack on that hedonism as the ultimate affront to their political and personal freedom – Larry Kramer remarked that just staying alive had become a political act for gay men.

Nothing but the Present

Lorna Scott Fox, 23 May 1996

The first thing the literary world noticed about Dale Peck was his youth. Now 28, he produced the harrowing Martin and John (attractively published in Britain as Fucking Martin) at 25. Why do we...

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