Hatchet Jobs by Dale Peck
Hatchet Jobs by Dale Peck, faculty, Creative Writing at The New School
The New Press, 2004
Barnes & Noble: According to Dale Peck, contemporary fiction is at an impasse. Its place as entertainer and educator has been usurped by television and the movies while publishing has become a feeder industry to Hollywood. Faced with such diminished status, novelists have reacted in two admirable, if misguided, ways: writing for targeted socio-cultural groups, they produce so-called “identity fiction,” which employs a neo-Victorian realism and resembles anthropology more than art; or, they’ve pursued an ironic and self-reflexive postmodernism that can only comment on the real world with a mocking, impotent jest. Both “solutions” are reactionary and self-defeating, leading to books for the few rather than the many that isolate their readers instead of bringing them together.
Hatchet Jobs methodically eviscerates such writing. Reviewing the work of Jim Crace, Rick Moody, and Colson Whitehead, Dale Peck scrutinizes the publishing climate that fosters what he deems mediocre work and the critical establishment that rewards it. Essays on gay and black women’s fiction acknowledge the benefits and limitations of identity fiction, while critiques of Julian Barnes and David Foster Wallace show how twentieth-century literary movements continue to shape fiction for both good and ill. Rife with textual analysis, historical context, and insights about the power of fiction, Hatchet Jobs hacks away literature’s deadwood to discover the vital heart of the contemporary novel.