one of the guys

written by Michelle on December 1, 2005 in Ephemera and News & Politics with 9 comments

In his oddly ascerbic rant against Brad Vice in the New York Press, Robert Clark Young isn’t content to simply bash Vice, author of The Bear Bryant Funeral Train (read the Funeral Train story here). Young makes it a point to vehemently criticize all things Southern, from the prestigious Sewanee Writers’ Conference to every Southern writer who blurbed Vice’s book or helped Vice in any way at all through the years, including his thesis advisor.

Among his targets are Richard Bausch, author of nine critically acclaimed novels as well as award-winning story collections; andBarry Hannah, author of eight novels, three story collections, and a couple of books of nonfiction.

What publishing credits are under Young’s belt? A single novel, One of the Guys, released in 2000 (Publishers Weekly noted the “improbable plot” and called it an “awkward debut novel,” while Kirkus Review said it was “built from a one-line premise” and that the opening situation was “cliche”). Of course, a couple of unenthusiastic reviews do not a bad book make; reviewers can indeed be flawed or be having a bad day or be careless readers or simply dislike the author. For all I know One of the Guys may be brilliant and misunderstood. But the gist of Young’s attack on Hannah by way of Vice is that Hannah’s latest book got mostly bad reviews but was well-reviewed by Vice. Young takes this to mean that Hannah only said nice things about Bear Bryant Funeral Train in order to pay Vice back for his supposed kindness. Huh? Seems like a leap to me. Not to mention that it’s mighty odd for someone like Young, no darling of the critics by any means, to take shots at the likes of Hannah on the grounds of a few bad reviews.

From the “no good deed goes unpunished” file, Young even attempts a take-down of Josip Novakovich, who happened to be one of the very few folks who had anything positive to say about One of the Guys.

The strangest thing of all, though, is Young’s inaccurate and hate-filled diatribe against the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, with which Vice has been deeply involved and which Young portrays as some backwater hoedown where dirty literary deals are made:

Over those 12 days, many of the South’s leading writers will congregate here. They will decide which of the conference’s attendees should be considered for future scholarships to the conference, which writers should receive letters of recommendation to graduate programs, which hot new novelists should receive blurbs, which conference attendees should be nominated for inclusion in New Stories From the South, and which book-length manuscripts might make good candidates for next year’s Flannery O’Connor Award in Short Fiction. In addition to deciding which writers will be rewarded with career boosts, they will decide which writers will be greeted at the conference with indifference or official silence or, even worse, a coordinated workshop attack.

I’ve been to Sewanee and found it the most pleasant, laid back, unpretentious time I’ve spent among other writers…ever. The workshop in which I participated, which happened to have been led by Bausch, was a very supportive one, far from a place where anyone received “official silence” or a “coordinated attack.” Young even manages a jibe against the “occasional New York editor or agent” who “will be found drinking at Sewanee.” I suppose the publisher of Grove Press, the fiction editor of the New Yorker, and one of the longest-established literary agents in the country don’t make Young’s list of people of merit in the business of literature. (All three were in attendance the year I visited Sewanee).

I thought perhaps Young was just above the whole writers’ conference thing. Maybe he doesn’t want to deal with workshops, have drinks with other writers, play the meet & greet game, and all that jazz. Perfectly understandable. But then I realized he isn’t above it at all: he’s an alumnus of the Squaw Valley Writers’ Conference. And the Sewanee Writers’ Conference that he so despises, judging by a comment he left on Moby Lives.

So why does Young hate the South so much? Why is he compelled to make such nasty remarks about other authors? Is he just desperate for material, and the Vice story seemed like an easy target? Whatever one’s thoughts are on the Bear Bryant Funeral Train controversy, it’s a strange tactic indeed to take aim at anyone and everyone who has ever been associated with Vice.

A Wikipedia entry on Young notes an essay he published in the Black Warrior Review in 1992 which “is notable for the wry jabs it takes at many of the established writers of the era.” (Young admits to having penned the weirdly glowing Wikipedia entry himself.) Apparently,Young has made a habit of booing other writers with far shinier credentials than his own. In that light, his unfounded attack against Sewanee and the rest isn’t the least bit surprising.

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