James Wood of the New Yorker starts off a review of a book called the Flamethrowers with this pretentious effort at being counter-intuitive and dismissive:
Put aside, for the moment, the long postwar argument between the rival claims of realistic and anti-realistic fiction—the seasoned triumphs of the traditional American novel on one side, and the necessary innovations of postmodern fiction on the other. It was never very edifying anyway, each camp busily caricaturing the other. And don’t bother with the newest “debate,” about the properly desirable amount of “reality” that American fiction should currently possess. (Twenty grams, twenty-five grams?) Some novelists, neither obviously traditional nor obviously experimental, neither flagrantly autobiographical nor airily fantastical, blast through such phantom barricades. Often, this is because they have a natural, vivacious talent for telling stories; and these stories—the paradox is important—seem fictively real, cunningly alive. Novelistic vivacity, the great unteachable, the unschooled enigma, has a way of making questions of form appear scholastic.
I could not disagree with him more. The fantasy versus reality debate is valid because American literature is always swinging back and forth between the two. Right now we are in a fantasy era of American writing. I wish the pendulum would swing back to realist, because I like those books and am myself a more of that kind of writer, but for him to dismiss the debate entirely just seems like willful ignorance for the sake of putting himself above everyone else.
The rest of his review reads like a book report, and it makes me wonder why he reads fiction other than to try to sound smart about it. He does such a close read of the book that he robs it of any kind of intrigue. For example:
It is easy enough for a good writer (and this is very good prose—that “inner wedge of sky” perfectly capturing the living blueness of atmosphere) to do something verbally fine with the extremities of desert. What is impressive about these early pages is how easily Kushner also begins to tell stories of the desert.