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A Letter From The Editor

February 07, 1988

Re: Roberta Smoodin's review of "The New Generation" (The Book Review, Dec. 13). Although the stories in "The New Generation" tackle topics such as Vietnam, cults, teen suicide, the nuclear threat, wife abuse, the rise of the religious right, and drug addiction, on behalf of 150 university graduate writing programs nationwide, as well as the 23 young American authors included in the book, I wish to apologize to you for my book's failure to capture the "inexpressible horror of our existance." Once again that slippery gekko has gotten away and here we are, left holding the tail.

Clearly, for you, there are many terrifying things going on out there. There is an "army of MFAs," a wild horde with pens in their hands and ambition in their hearts, pouring out of the universities; the unconscionable willingness of publishers to give young writers a break; a young writer's wish, God forbid, to make a little money at his trade. And lest we forget, there is 24-year-old Bret Easton Ellis and 23-year-old Jill Eisenstadt respectively, whose slender, fiendish books threaten to topple 200 years of American literary culture (and who, by the way, are not even in my book, yet, according to you, "responsible" for it). And then of course there is "minimalism" itself: despite being, these days, a catch-all stylistic category, yet still not fitted to describe a single story in "The New Generation." But what matters that? What matters if there is not one story in the book about a Hispanic childhood, if you claim there is? Or if, despite your report that "nearly half of the stories are concerned with white, upper-middle class, precocious childhoods," in fact only one, perhaps two, stories are so? What does it matter, Ms. Smoodin, if, as is evident, you have not read the book, but for your purposes conjured an imaginary collection and proceeded to attack it? What matters here is your indignation, which is formidable.

Piquantly you express your indignation through saccharin percentiles and quotients, such as drove me, in childhood, from an afternoon of math homework into the reading room of the public library, seeking relief. About what precisely you are riled is difficult to say. Why bother to describe a story's plot, discuss a single character, evaluate as art and properly judge an author's technique through an examination of specific details for specific results?

Your review demonstrates that you are, in the most comic, Beckettian sense, a "c-r-r-itic"; determined, regardless of ones worth as an artist, that no one under 45 years of age signs a publisher's contract. You deplore the "crass commercialism" which permits the publication of this book. Had William Faulkner, Joseph Conrad, Herman Melville or Charles Dickens brought their truly awful, and often silly, early efforts to you, clearly, you would have thrown them out with warnings not to return until their hairs were turning gray.

However, through my door young talents shall always gain admission.

ALAN KAUFMAN

EDITOR, "THE NEW GENERATION"

NEW YORK

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