Neal Before Him

Pollack is pretty great, and he deserves your rapt attention

Neal Pollack and Dave Eggers are the Matt Damon and Ben Affleck of the publishing world—if they were just a little bit cuter and were, like, best friends, and if they worked and wrote together, which they don't.

But the two are closely identified; instead of Damon and Affleck, think of them as Chico and the Man. Pollack, in addition to staffing at one of the country's best alternative weeklies, the Chicago Reader, writes long, self-involved columns for the Eggers-edited McSweeneys (www.mcsweeneys.net). In fact, the two are so closely identified that some retard from the San Diego Union Tribune decreed that they are the same person and that Pollack, to be absolutely precise, does not exist. He went on to praise Eggers to the heavens for all of Pollack's work, and, boy, was Pollack's mom pissed!

Pollack and Eggers are getting the rare kind of attention that comes with publishing Promising Novels From Fresh Young Authors. That they're doing it at roughly the same time reinforces their symbiosis in the eye of the literary establishment, which is always looking for (and confused about) Promising Fresh Young, Etc.

The perceived partnership probably isn't far off, though I have heard—Union Tribune notwithstanding—that they are definitely two distinct people. Both are brimming with stereotypical Xer smugness like cats full of mouse. Both are funny—so funny. So very, very funny.

But only Pollack is coming to Club Mesa this Wednesday to read aloud from his much-vaunted work and share a sandwich with you, his brand-new fans. Don't worry about the ancient drunken hecklers at the bar. They're mostly harmless.

I haven't read Eggers' A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius because it's $23 for the hardcover and the Long Beach Public Library has a waiting list that's 18 people long. It's getting great props (including in this very paper). Our own Cornel Bonca called it "sweet and brazen, vulnerable and tough-hearted, everything we love in young American writers." Wow, huh?

But Neal Pollack's The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature? Oh, yeah. I got that. Check.

You see, Neal Pollack is the greatest writer of his generation, and he wants you to know it. His work is not for the faint or those who can't handle a healthy ego. Sometimes his prose wears thin, particularly when he's cataloging his stunning lovers, who inevitably are wealthy prizewinning poets and wealthy human-rights activists and wealthy directors of avant-garde film festivals. Often, his lovers are Toni Morrison.

The collection of his stories begins with "The Albania of My Existence," in which Pollack travels to Europe's poorest country to see for his own much-feted self the travails of a country in which children play soccer with dead cats. "We had dirt for lunch today," Pollack writes. "All 23 of us. Jumanji, the patriarch of this family, is a short, bald, armless man who looks older than his 87 years. He tells me that dirt has been of short supply in Albania lately, and he worries about his family's diet."

From there, the author, whose constant winning of literary prizes and humanitarian awards is extremely annoying, travels through Ireland (where he is smacked about by landladies), Paris (where he is the most toasted dinner guest in the 16th Arrondissement) and Chiapas (where, having heard to his amazement about the Zapatistas' 6-year-old war over cocktail chatter, he seeks the mysterious Subcomandante Marcos and buys an American baby from an Oregonian stoner girl because in the U.S., a baby would cost at least $1,000, and he's never been able to resist a bargain). Near the end of the book, he falls under the sexual spell of a communist named Paula in Washington Square Park, and he lights out for Las Vegas, determined to make it a haven for communists everywhere. He gets punched out by a middle-aged black man who has a good job and sends his children to well-funded, integrated suburban schools and doesn't like it when Pollack screams that he's a sellout. Pollack ends up in Seattle, where he loots a Banana Republic. "Wait, I realized," he writes after wiping blood from his dying manservant's forehead with the cuffs of a nice pair of khakis. "I love cuffs. Absolutely adore them. Look at all these pants!"

THE NEAL POLLACK ANTHOLOGY OF AMERICAN LITERATURE BY NEAL POLLACK; MCSWEENEYS BOOKS. 160 pages, HARDCOVER, $16; NEAL POLLACK READS FROM THE NEAL POLLACK ANTHOLOGY OF AMERICAN LITERATURE AT CLUB MESA, 843 W. 19TH ST., COSTA MESA, (949) 642-6634. WED., 9 P.M. FREE.

 
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