Looking for Genet: Literary Essays and Reviews

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9780876858721: Looking for Genet: Literary Essays and Reviews

"The minute that Alfred Chester turned from fiction to criticism," writes Edward Field in his foreword to this collection of Chester's occasional prose, "editors started pursuing him." As a writer of experimental fiction, he could not place his stories, "but as a critic, he was a hot number on the scene." Throughout the 1960s, he published ruthless, devastating, endlessly talked about reviews of his elders and contemporaries in the leading intellectual magazines of the day, including Partisan Review, The New York Review of Books, Commentary, and The Paris Review. Like Dale Peck and James Wolcott today, and like Poe and Twain before him, Chester turned literary criticism into a blood sport and a high entertainment.


Looking for Genet brings together twenty-five of Chester's notorious essays and reviews, including pieces on Nabokov's Pale Fire ("a total wreck, and for one reason: it's not funny, and it's supposed to be"), Burroughs's Naked Lunch ("the first half is pleasantly readable without too much skipping, the second is pleasantly skippable without too much yawning"), and Updike's Pigeon Feathers ("a god who has allowed a writer to lavish such craft upon these worthless tales is capable of anything"). Here too are sketches from his penniless bohemian life in Paris, seven "Letters from Morocco" written for the New York Herald Tribune, and Chester's final piece -- the half-mad, previously unpublished "Letter from the Wandering Jew," a howl of rage and despair from his hated final home, Jerusalem. Together these pieces are testament to the life and the talent of the Sixties' most memorable literary iconoclasts.

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From Library Journal:

A novelist ( The Exquisite Corpse , LJ 2/15/67) and writer of short fiction ( Behold Goliath , LJ 6/1/64), Chester remains better known for his journalism than his criticism. The editor of this collection has gathered together, in what is obviously a labor of love, Chester's contributions to many publications over the years like the New York Review of Books , Book World , Commentary , the Partisan Review , the Paris Review , and smaller European journals. These essays, book reviews, and columns comment on John Updike, William Burroughs, J.D. Salinger, and a host of other contemporary authors. The collection closes with "Letter from a Wandering Jew," a previously unpublished account of the expatriate author's attempt to find a home in Israel. Chester's mind is original, his reviews irreverent and entertaining. Yet, with the possible exception of the last piece and the Genet essay, these writings are not strong enough to attract many new readers or affect Chester's reputation.
- William Gargan, Brooklyn Coll. Lib., CUNY
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review:

"Chester was a glorious writer, tough as nails, with an exquisite ear for the false note. His review of John Rechy's City of Night is murderously funny, absolutely unfair, and totally true a trick that only a high critic knows how to pull off." --Gore Vidal

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