In response to:
Who Needs Enemies? from the January 22, 1981 issue
To the Editors:
James Wolcott is a poor reader and worse writer, but what makes his review of Mark Harris’s Saul Bellow, Drumlin Woodchuck [NYR, January 22] unreliable is something else. Wolcott is, apparently, a bad fellow, mean-spirited, a sneak, and a show-off. Like many such, he’s full of high sentence and nasty practise. So he hates “the current appetite for literary-world gossip” but he wallows in what’s there and insinuates there’s more. He smears and runs. After one insinuation, he writes, “but let it go.” It’s already gone: into The New York Review) Hinting at another, he suggests “we would all be better off not knowing what it is.” What a fellow. No wonder he misreads almost every human relationship.
It’s not for me to judge Harris’s book. I am its dedicatee, one of its ‘characters,” a friend of both Harris and Bellow. Nor is this letter a rebuttal of Wolcott’s review. You don’t rebut a bad smell. You open a window. That’s the point of this letter.
University of Chicago
James Wolcott replies:
Well, Mr. Stern has certainly told me off! After his lordly, crushing letter, I don’t dare venture out during daylight without first donning sunglasses and a clip-on mustache. Before I slink off into exile, however, I should like to make rudely explicit what my review left implicit: I think a true friend of Saul Bellow’s would have talked the pestering Harris out of trying to write Bellow’s biography, not egged him on. If this is a misreading of the situation, my apologies to all concerned. But I can’t resist adding that there’s something a tad unbecoming about grown men parading about wearing sandwich-board signs which read “We’re Friends of Saul Bellow.” A little discretion, fellas; please.