Peter S. Prescott was one of the most informed and incisive American literary critics to write for the general public. Never content merely to summarize or to pronounce quick judgments, Prescott's reviews are witty and delightful essays to be enjoyed for their own sake as examples of civilized discourse. Whether he is exploring a well-known novelist's outlook and methods, or the peculiar deficiencies of a work of nonfiction, Prescott's grace, elegance, and insights make each piece proof that real criticism need not be pedantic, obscure, or interminably long.
The focus in this second volume of Prescott's writings published by Transaction is on both fiction by American authors and on nonfiction reflecting our American unease. He casts an ironic eye on how we in this country think we live now; on what we are saying about ourselves in our fiction, our history, and our biography. Prescott considers some of our century's classic writers: Hemingway and Henry Miller; John Cheever and Thornton Wilder. He offers new insights regarding those who are still at work: Mailer, John Irving, Oates, Updike, Ozick, and Alice Walker. Some authors do not fare well. With his customary flair; Prescott explains why the reputations of Kurt Vonnegut and Barbara Tuchman, the Encyclopedia Britannica, and John Gardner, urgently need deflation. He includes essays on writers and books not generally noticed in collections of criticism: Stephen King, The Joy of Sex, fairy tales, science fiction, thrillers, books on survival and etiquette. Here is a critic with a personal voice and a sense of style. For essays published in this collection, Prescott received the most highly regarded prize in journalism: the rarely presented George Polk Award for Criticism.
This is a chronicle of our contemporary American culture as revealed by its books, written with verve, intelligence, wisdom, and wit by a critic who's cruel only when appropriate. Encounters with American Culture is, quite simply, literary journalism at its urbane best.