Creativity surges through the veins of OLLI-USF members! Especially those who read OLLI Connects. Who among us has not had our most sublime creative work reviled and rejected by some soi disant critic whose own creativity could be measured in, at most, milliliters? But some of us respond vigorously in defense of our work, as our colleague, Derek Burke, does here.
To the Editor:
I am writing to protest your publication’s review of my last novel. Of the many criticisms Mr. Mitchell levels at me, none merit reply, and space unfortunately forbids me from addressing more than those that time will allow.
“The novel’s numerous flaws,” pronounces Mr. Mitchell, “Include clumsy writing, embarrassing dialog, awkward pacing, and ludicrous plot resolutions. Almost every page is seriously marred by something or the other. I can’t remember when I’ve enjoyed a book less (italics mine).”
How odd, yet not surprising, that he fails to weigh in a point rather crucial to the discussion here—that through recognition accorded by many whose opinions matter most my voice has been ranked among the more important being heard today. Mr. Mitchell also neglects to note that the plot of Angels Who Dare To Try is played out contrapuntally against a parquet of past and present, a “high modernism” weave of mythic constructs and fiercely observed detail. But I forget, we’re already asking too much of him.
Mr. Mitchell claims that “the author sometimes abandons characters altogether, without telling us what happens to them. Here’s one such departure: ‘And so we say goodbye to Hester Peabody, who leaves us now to take up a quiet life in Spain.”’
By way of refuting this blatantly obtuse reading, let us simply point out that writers occasionally hold up a mirror to the contemplative life, finding to nobody’s surprise that certain characters may opt for it.
Proceeding to strangle in the slipnoose of his own loose verbiage, Mr. Mitchell then goes on to say that “this novel is, if possible, worse than his last. For example: ‘Like the simpering coward he was, Brent crept off into the feckless cove of his own remorse. His irises, a dull green flecked with amber, reeked of fear.'” Knowing Mr. Mitchell, he probably would have preferred something like “Brent left,” a perfect example of the Weak Reed School of Writing that our armchair Miss Priss so ardently espouses.
Nothing needs to be said here in defense of my previous novel, Where None Would Know, which, in seeking to uncover the lusts and longings that lie just beneath the coattails of a drowsy burg, hit, by comment assent, the emotional target right on the button.
“With this book,” wrote a leading observer of the human condition, “Derek Burke moves into the first rank of novelists. His taut, pulse-pounding prose is packed with little astonishments, elegantly salted with just a whiff of sui generis. He lances a hurt so deep that the depths dare not speak its name. I like this novel even better than When Vagabonds First Cried No, which was sprawling, healing, lurid, important, crisp, sassy, redemptive, spunky, lapidary, spongy, wise. If Burke did not exist, someone would have to invent him.”
The factual errors in Mr. Mitchell’s review, totalling 27, do not bear counting, but several glaring omissions must not go unchallenged.
To mention just one, Mr. Mitchell says that “the hopelessly meandering plot takes us all over the hell and back, and if I’m not mistaken, we touch down in at least 20 different airports.” As anyone who ever took Math 101 can quickly ascertain, we visit 22 airports, but then we forget that Mr. Mitchell must have flunked out of math that same year he failed English.
Not to put too fine a point upon it, but Mr. Mitchell’s ill-founded dismissal of the book’s sexual passages further underscores what I’m continuing to say: “Ambitious spouses are constantly cheating on each other and becoming entangled in a ‘scorching, sticky, bourbon-drenched Strindberg dance of desire, hollow-stuffed men and women who bang and boff their way to the top.’ At one point two of them are actually said to ‘go at it like hot, need-crazed rapturous bunnies.'”
Hardly surprising that our mama’s boy flinches from the bright moral passion of rough-and-tumble sex, the front line of paradox and pain. As numerous surveys have shown, most men and women are driven by an overwhelming need to commit adultery, and if I write dirty, it’s because people talk dirty.
Of course, much eludes Mr. Mitchell doesn’t it, as is all too clear from other criticisms he levels at me. “Perhaps more than anything Mr. Burke loves an allegory, but he’s constantly getting his literal and figurative images all mixed up. There’s a juniper tree in there, for instance, that dies a terrible (and swift) death at the hands of Dutch Elm disease, but then at novel’s end the withered trunk, ‘symbolizing all that has gone before and after,’ actually leaves the ground and ascends into heaven.”
Had the brainy one bothered to look beneath the surface, he might have better understood what spiritual transmogrification—the nuts and bolts of Zeno’s paradox—is all about. As Umberto Morris, my co-producer, has pointed out: “Greg Burke insinuates his own importance in every scene. Writes from within the tortured vernacular of his own nimble heart His writing is sinuous and luminous, by turns luminous and sinuous, and with a single phrase he can impale a whole idea.”
It is worth noting, in conclusion, that my several letters, emails, and calls to Mr. Mitchell have gone unanswered. But if I am to be accused, by his silence, of standing a genre on its head, of seeking to climb mountains of glass, of hanging my tears out to dry, then I stand guilty as charged.
In sum, Mr. Mitchell fails to review not only the novel but the subtext on which it is based, and a better trained ear would have discoursed far more intelligently. By claiming to find fault where none could be seen to exist, Mr. Mitchell reveals himself for what he really is—an intellectually diminutive man of little if any stature who’s far shorter than the reviewer he palms himself off to be.
Cancel my subscription!
Derek Burke first realized he was a good writer when he heard himself exclaim, in passing: “Boy, I’m a good writer!” Encouraged by this ringing endorsement, he quit high school and set out to find fame and fortune. Fortunately, Burke never had to search for ideas; they searched for him, and soon the young firebrand collected all of them in a 1,274-page book, the first of many, titled On the Road: A Defining Roman a Clef about Jazz, Poetry, and Drug Use.
Burke’s perambulations—driven always by the hard, gem-like flame that burns nonstop within him—eventually took him to OLLI, where he found a welcome home. His wide-ranging interests are reflected in the three courses he’s been tapped to teach this Fall: 1) “Getting to Know Your Life Force on a First Name Basis,” 2) “Use of the Diphthong in the Ukrainian secular epic poem Slovo o polku Ihorevil,” and 3, “How I Got to Be Who I Am—And Why It Matters.”
[OK. You caught us. The real author of this tongue-in-cheek article is Bob Strozier whose piece “Great Books, No!” appeared in an earlier issue of OLLI Connects.]