Writing for an audience
December 18, 2007
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I’m reading Neal Pollack now (review forthcoming, eventually), because I got his book used for $4 and he’s part of that McSweeney’s crowd that I always thought were pretty good writers but never managed to capture my interest. Turns out this is no exception. Pollack writes from the point of view of a fictional persona who is an amalgam of every overprivileged, ego-driven white male writer, but he does it so well that unless you know the writers he’s lampooning, he just comes off as, well, an overprivileged, ego-driven white male writer who has done so much drugs and alcohol that he is delusional.
The point of this post, I guess, is to go back and revisit something I’d written before about writing to your audience. Pollack has a particular audience in mind here: people who read the New Yorker and Harper’s and who follow Gore Vidal and Truman Capote and who enjoy that style of writing, but find it a bit overblown. His parodies are interesting, but I’m left feeling like I’ve just read the punch line to a joke I didn’t know. (Aside: there are several punch lines that have become divorced from their jokes, the most famous being “Twenty bucks, same as in town!” which it took me a little while to uncover on Google because I always wanted to know what the joke was. There’s also “Wrecked ’em? It damn near killed ’em!” which was a big hit in my college days and is only funny if you say the first part fast enough to make it sound like one word. From these punch lines, it is possible to dimly intuit the joke, as opposed to the one I first read in King Kaufman’s column a couple years ago: “Know it? Hell, lady, I wrote it!” All of these are funnier without their jokes than Neal Pollack’s short pieces.)
Asides aside, I wouldn’t suggest that Pollack take his brilliant skewering of writers I’ve never read and open it up to the mainstream. He’s got his audience; it just doesn’t include me. That’s the risk you take when you tailor your writing that finely, and I’m well aware that were “NP” to pick up “Common and Precious,” he would likely discard it within a couple chapters (“this book has a ‘plot’…how common! how precious! ha ha! neal pollack provides his own amusement where none else can be found!” Yes, I picture him talking about himself in the third person. Yes, that’s probably just from his first name being phonetically the same as the allegedly third-person-talking Neil Gaiman.). So I guess we’ll continue to revolve in our separate spheres, him with his “book deals” and his fancy friends, and me with my blog, my small press, and all of you.
Doesn’t seem fair to him, does it? ;)