Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Otto Penzler & Uncertain Endings*

Last night, in reviewing Otto Penzler's extraordinarily good anothology Uncertain Endings, I mentioned that I didn't understand Otto's antipathy to female writers. Otto responded in the following letter.

Hi Ed,
Many thanks for the nice review. It's a book I'd wanted to do for 35 years--ever since I turned 50.
I mainly bash women writers because, well, they're mainly lousy writers with no sense of literary style or ambition. While she's a despicable human people, I think Ruth Rendell is brilliant. I love P.D. James. I loved Patricia Highsmith's work. I have (mostly) been a great fan of Minette Walters and Denise Mina. Often Liza Cody. I've liked early Patsy Cornwall. I think Joyce Carol Oates, for all her brilliance, is underrated. So sue me if I find nothing redeeming or original in Lillian Jackson Braun, Rita Mae Brown (and, of course, Sneaky Pie Brown), hairdresser mysteries, etc. They're not written for me, so mostly I try to leave them alone. It's when they start winning awards or are outrageously praised (either publicly or to me personally) that I feel a need to respond. It would be easier if I let them be. I just cain't.
All best wishes, Otto


BTW I really can't say enough good things about Uncertain Endings or Penzler's remarkable introduction. One of the outstanding anthologies of the last few years. Among the many excellent stories in the book, the one that has obsessed me for three days running is Aldous Huxley's "The Gioconda Smile." This is a novel compressed with skilled precision and concision into about 12,000 words. (As I recall, JT Ballard, back when he writing for the science fiction magazines of the Sixties, did his own take on this story.) Among the many stunning aspects of the story is that Huxley creates a protagonist who is a true intellectual (for good and ill) and doesn't just state this but demonstrates it on every page--how virtually every emotional reaction the man has is informed by his knowledge of classical art be it architecture, painting, poetry or history. He is also widely read in the sciences and several of the more astonishing metaphors are scientific in nature. I've read the story three times in four days and will probably read it again tonight. It's that rich in its ironies, self-delusions and treacheries.

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