Tuesday, July 21, 2009


The news has come that Frank McCourt is dead. I have heard of him and that is sufficient as Edward Dahlberg would say.

Denis Donoghue was never asked to review a book for The New York Times after he panned McCourt's first and much lamented Angela's Ashes. His crime was to have questioned the literary merit of the memoir and to point out the unearned bathos of much of the writing.

McCourt's work quickly became the token white male contribution to the great ethnic sweepstakes that is contemporary American literature. He is the official Irish delegate joining those other profitable and endlessly self-important scribes such as Sherman Alexie, Toni Morrison, Junot Diaz... who sniffing out a soap box even a hundred miles away never fail to rush themselves to the necessary cause of fattening their bank accounts on behalf of....

It is known that McCourt first tried out his routines on his captive New York City high school students and they unable to escape had to endure his endless revising of his Irish saga... his leaving the New York City school system was one of the few blessings of his success

Finally, what is lost in the elevation of such a writer as McCourt is the availability of much greater writers, happening to be Irish but without the degraded sensibility so in evidence in his and the work of his ever expanding family of scribes.

I am thinking of writers such as John McGahren, Francis Stuart, Denis Donoghue and even Seamus Deane whose memoirs easily stand comparison to memoirs by writers like Michel Leiris and Thomas Bernhard... and sadly the novels of James McCourt are shaded by the mistaken notion that he is part of the Frank McCourt family.