Winning the Pulitzer Prize won’t ensure a writer respect from a certain cadre of critics, those who owe their high perches to their employment rather than to any literary achievement. For good or ill, these arbitrators of taste imagine they determine what passes for fine literature. I admit, their opinions are a notch more erudite than the acid warbling of Stephen King, author of popular but mediocre books that give him the confidence to pass judgment on the merits of his peers. James Patterson, who suffered one of these attacks, offered a bemused reply. “I’m a good dad, a nice husband. My only crime is that I’ve sold millions of books.” (“It’s Tartt – But Is It Art?” by Evgenia Peretz, Vanity Fair, July 2014 pg. 48.)
If a Pulitzer were to be bestowed for literary nastiness, it might have gone to Norman Mailer who said of Thomas Wolfe, “There is something silly about a man who wears white all the time, especially in New York.” Unrepentant, Wolfe sniffed when he heard the remark: “The lead dog is the one they always try to bite in the ass.” (Ibid, pg. 48.)
A current frenzy exists over Donna Tartt’s third novel, The Goldfinch. Her first book, The Secret History, was considered a triumph, and so she is a natural target for the critics. True, several compared her to Charles Dickens, but that isn’t necessarily a compliment. Henry James wrote that Dickens “added nothing to our understanding of human character.” (Ibid, pg. 46.)
Of course, the literary fame of Henry James is in doubt as I write. (blog 5/6/14). Critics may love him but they aren’t the final arbiters of what endures. The reading public is and right now, James is as popular as spit at a dinner party. (Blog 3/14/2014)
To be honest, when it comes to my regard for critics, I stand with Mark Twain. In his introduction to Huckleberry Finn, he issued them a strong warning:
Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.