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School Of Cruelty

December 22, 1991

In his Nov. 17 letter taking exception to conclusions I drew in my review of Paul Russell's "Boys of Life" (Oct. 17) about what I termed "the growing school of literary cruelty" and its lack of redemptive or admonitory qualities so that there is no real "illumination," Mr. Paul Turpin somersaults to the conclusion that I expect "first-person villains to be remorseful . . . have second thoughts . . . (be) brought to justice." Nothing in my review substantiates such a silly conclusion.

I agree with Mr. Turpin that the first-person voice is a difficult one that "done well . . . absorbs the reader wholly into the protagonist's mind." In the hands of the best practitioners of the form--Swift, Nabokov, Camus--the author is able to add insights his narrator may not have, without losing any verisimilitude of voice. Out of that comes illumination.

Other explorers of violence write from intimate knowledge--Genet, John Henry Abbott, De Sade. Unique illumination derives from their reliability as witnesses. A respected professor at Vassar, Russell unconvincingly assumes the voice of a young, semiliterate hustler-narrator and manipulates him into absolving an intellectual artist who abused him.

Turpin quotes me correctly as believing these writers focus "so intimately on a violent protagonist that they seem to want to become him." Then he blithely substitutes immoral for violent and concludes, illogically, that I would castigate Joyce's "Ulysses." If he changed violent to romantic , would he assume that I would castigate Bronte's "Wuthering Heights"?

JOHN RECHY, LOS ANGELES

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