The Greatest Living American Writer
Listen as Liane Hansen talks with Neal Pollack.
Neal Pollack's Satire Skewers Authorly Egos
March 3, 2002 -- Neal Pollack is the greatest living American writer. Don't believe it? Just ask him.
"I am the greatest living American writer," he'll say.
Neal Pollack takes a break from creating greatness.|
Photo: Courtesy Neal Pollack
Seriously though. Or not. Pollack and his better-known pal Dave Eggers rule the turn-of-the-century irony racket -- each with a successful book issued in the waning summer of 2000. It's not totally clear whether they really think they are great, but legions of amused readers do.
How they got there: an awareness of their own self-absorption, and that of others; contempt for and appreciation of the popular culture; wicked senses of humor; facility with hyperbole. And talent -- more raw talent in their pinky fingernails than the rest of us can muster from the entirety of our beings. Just ask them.
How they stay there: relentless self-promotion, even as they pretend it's all a big joke. Hence, Pollack's book tour and his appearance on Weekend Edition Sunday.
The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature was just issued in paperback. It is, among other things, "a heady mix of aesthetic loathing and professional jealousy," Pollack says.
It's also the tale of Neal Pollack, as told through his writings. No, not that Neal Pollack. The other one: a 71-year-old raging egomaniac who is the real "greatest living American writer." Except that he's not real, and he's not nearly as good a writer as he thinks he is. He is a mixture of every male magazine scribe to put himself at the center of a story since the mid-'50s: Vidal, Mailer, Talese, Capote. That ilk.
Pollack (the younger, actual one), a former writer for The Chicago Reader, aims his satire at some more-contemporary targets as well. "The Albania of My Existence" could be the story of Sebastian Junger or any number of globetrotting hotshots.
And ''I am Friends with a Working-Class Black Woman'' is targeted at journalists who seek out the poor and the downtrodden as fodder for meaningful stories -- in particular, those who worked on an acclaimed series on race in The New York Times a few years ago. It was obvious they were "gunning for a Pulitzer," Pollack says. "I couldn't stand it any more."
Pollack reads from "My Week at Sea" and muses on his insatiable appetite for frozen food.
Pollack reads from "One Against the Taliban" and muses on post-Sept. 11 journalistic hubris.
• Pollack's homepage.
• McSweeney's was the first to publish Pollack's satire.
• The acclaimed New York Times series on race that sent Pollack over the edge.