We can be grateful that every age has its literary palliatives. They are writers who cure nothing and don’t presume to do so, whose words ease our fevers, who do no harm but perform the thankless service of soothing distress with measured doses of wit and good humor. One of these bookish practitioners is Roger Boylan – novelist, essayist, critic, memoirist, blogger, Asclepian man of letters.
For optimum healing, proceed to Boylan’s first novel, Killoyle (Dalkey Archive Press, 1997). Then head to his web site, click on his blog, The Snug, and on the Essays link. Boylan is a rare writer who remains genuinely independent, free of schools (in both senses) and other entrapments. He makes room for the right people – Sterne, Nabokov, Flann O’Brien, Beckett – but ignores the facile diagnosis of “metafictionist” or, praise be, “postmodernist.” He’s big enough to embrace with comparable enthusiasm the likes of Solzhenitsyn, V.S. Naipaul, Jane Austen and John McGahern. Boylan is the opposite of provincial. What is the word? Capacious, catholic, cosmopolitan? He reads the book at hand and weighs its merits. Consider this from his review on Sunday of The Abyss of Human Illusion, a posthumous novel by Gilbert Sorrentino:
“With his experimental `metafiction’ — spoofing literary conventions, leaving sentences dangling, writing an entire novel (`Gold Fools’) in the form of questions — he seemed to place himself squarely in the postmodernist camp; but his ear for American, especially New York, speech, and his attention to the spirit of place and compassion for the average loser, all defined him as a kindred spirit of such great American humorists as Mark Twain and Peter De Vries. His true masters, however, were the black-humored Irish, notably Joyce, Beckett and Flann O’Brien.”
Only a confident reader and critic will publicly announce admiration for such a mixed crowd. Boylan would, I presume, hold with Tristram Shandy:
“Of all the cants which are canted in this canting world, — though the cant of hypocrites may be the worst, — the cant of criticism is the most tormenting!”