Hidden Valley Lake, Calif.
I am so grateful to William Deresiewicz for enabling me to see how deluded I have been [“Science Fiction,” Oct. 9]. I’m tempted, even, to sue Richard Powers for the roughly 250 to 300 hours of my life I have spent reading his deeply flawed novels. Strange to say, I have actually experienced–obviously due to my “sentimentalism”–rather profound emotions in novel after novel. I was always puzzled that such an intellectually rich author could stimulate sobs from what I believed to be the depth of my soul. Clearly Powers is a charlatan, if we are to accept Dr. Deresiewicz’s insightful critique. Coveting a MacArthur “genius” award myself, I rush to agree that these folks, too, must be deluded.
For instance, Dr. D says of The Echo Maker, “It won’t tell you much about what its laboriously accumulated information and elaborately constructed concepts have to do with what it means to be alive at a particular time and place, or what it feels like.” Simple me! Sentimental me! One of my inappropriate breakdowns occurred while reading of the meeting of Delia David and David Strom at the Marian Anderson concert in The Time of Our Singing. I sob even as I write, remembering what I imagined to be the glory of Powers’s writing.
The DAR had canceled the black diva’s concert at their hall, so Eleanor Roosevelt opened the Mall and hundreds of thousands came. Delia and David, black and Jew, man and woman, singer and listener, joined their souls. She feared the racial chasm, wanted to walk away. A black child seeking his lost brother seals them into a pledge and a marriage to a world without racism. I guess I must be a real sucker!
Or perhaps Dr. D is the sucker, the attacker, the Yale prof who gets his kicks from dissing the authors he can’t approach? He seems to have a bad habit, one a skillful neuroscientist or author of immensely creative fiction might diagnose. A quick Internet scan finds references to his “hatchet job on Terry Eagleton” in The Nation; a New York Times Book Review of his characterized as “among the most savage dismissals not only of one book but of an author’s entire oeuvre (with a few stabs at the author himself thrown in for good measure)…. Usually it is only spiteful ex-lovers who get this nasty”; and Dr. D’s opinion in the Times that Susan Sontag has “never before…made such large claims for her moral pre-eminence, her exemplary fulfillment of the intellectual’s mission as society’s conscience. In effect, she’s the first person in a long while to nominate herself so publicly for sainthood.”
“Perpetually trying to prove something,” “ethically coercive and intellectually pedantic,” “pious and self-righteous,” Richard Powers’s fiction, proclaims William Deresiewicz–with pious self-righteousness–serves “neither the cause of art nor of justice.” What sins has Powers committed? His characters are flat, his novels lack organic unity and his fiction is didactic.