In response to:
Good Men Are Hard to Find from the August 12, 1982 issue
To the Editors:
Robert Towers admits that my fiction and Alice Walker’s have nothing in common, yet he lumps them together in the same review [NYR, August 12]. Why?
The review also reveals that Mr. Towers is unfamiliar with Richard Wright’s The Long Dream, as well as the works of Ernest Gaines; nor has he read black female novelists who’ve dealt with “the life of poor, rural southern blacks as it was experienced by their womenfolk,” without succumbing to the marketable habit of portraying black males as sexual criminals. He hasn’t read Margaret Walker.
When Mr. Towers uses absolute terms like “inescapable criticism” when dealing with my work, his dogma is showing. He’s weak enough as a literary critic; he wouldn’t last a week as an art critic.
Finally, I found the review’s head, “Good Men Are Hard to Find,” to be an example of the kind of juvenile, petty feminist politics which seem to be operating in Manhattan circles these days.
Robert Towers replies:
I am sorry that what I believe to be a temperate and not unfriendly review of The Terrible Twos should have provoked its author to such a pitch of rage. His first question is easily answered. When I proposed reviewing Alice Walker’s The Color Purple to The New York Review, it was suggested that I might want to write about Ishmael Reed’s new novel as well. Would Mr. Reed prefer to have had his book omitted from the review?
As to my sins of omission listed in the second paragraph of the letter: I am not a specialist in black fiction, but I have read a fair number of novels by blacks that have come to general attention—among them several books by Ishmael Reed. If I have overlooked significant works of fiction dealing with the experience of poor, rural, Southern black women, I can only plead an ignorance which I will try to rectify.
Mr. Reed’s third paragraph is merely abusive—and incoherently so. The phrase “inescapable criticism” does not appear in my review. I do not know which “dogma” he is referring to, nor can I make sense of the final clause.
Lastly, Mr. Reed seems to have missed the point of the article’s heading. Far from being an example of “petty feminist politics,” the heading (which, incidentally, I did not contribute) makes an ironic and perfectly appropriate reference to the anti-male bias that I noted in The Color Purple.
Could it be that Mr. Reed’s masculine pride has been hurt by his having deduced from my review that I consider Miss Walker’s novel—anti-male bias and all—a more rewarding work than his own rather engaging but slapdash performance?
October 21, 1982