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Monday, December 17, 1979

Minneapolis Tribune reviews Richard Grayson's WITH HITLER IN NEW YORK


The December 15, 1979 issue of the Minneapolis Tribune features a review of Richard Grayson's With Hitler in New York:

HOW BAD ARE THESE STORIES?

With Hitler in New York and Other Stories, by Richard Grayson (Taplinger, 190 pages, $7.95)

Reviewed by D.G. Wnek


For weeks and weeks I have tried to think of an ingenious way to say “With Hitler in New York” has no literary merit whatsoever. Inferior quality, unfortunately, does not inspire ingenuity. To put it bluntly: this is the worst book I have read in my life.

Richard Grayson’s anthology of short stories is unbelievably bad, bad, bad.

How bad is it?

Well, after a writer reviews his chosen book, he gets to keep it…I am not keeping this one. I want to give it to someone I really despise.

If that sounds harsh then consider this: the author himself refuses to accept responsibility for writing these stories. Grayson blames their existence on “the anarchist’s bomb that killed Czar Alexander II in Petersburg in 1881 (which) led to Russian pogroms and to the anti-Semitic May laws of 1881.” These events, he says, eventually led to his presence in this country as a writer. He also advises readers to address negative criticism to the anarchist who planted the bomb—not him. How fortunate for him and his mailman.

Grayson’s stories have no real plot, no meaningful action, no memorable characters; they do little more than exist. In “Infant Sorrow” a celebrated weightlifter feels unloved and remembers when he was constipated. In “Notes toward a Story for Uncle Irving,” the author begins a tribute to his uncle, then ends with, “And it’s a shame on you, Uncle Irving, you ignorant, boastful, cowardly, neurotic, foolish old man.” In “Princess from the Land of Porcelain” a married woman finally finds contentment in her dreams—as a lesbian. In “The Mother in My Bedroom” a mother who once hid under her son’s bed as he entertained various lovers, must spend the rest of her life in her son’s bedroom. And in “With Hitler in New York” Hitler returns to America to smoke joints, watch television and eat at McDonald’s.

The remaining 22 stories—sometimes confusing, usually boring, and always absurd—impart nothing of any significance to the reader.

Grayson writes about meaningless lives, meaningless actions, trying to uncover something meaningful. He never does. He only shows that those who embrace the monotony of existence become monotonous figures.

Even his better stories, “Chief Justice Burger, Teen Idol” and “Classified Personal” are not, in fact, short stories. They are nonsensical fragments, inchoate exercises from his coffee-stained notebook, perhaps funny little things Grayson, instructor of creative writing, might show his classes at Long Island University and Kingsborough Community College. Grayson knows this. He also knows that his other works, those which most resemble short stories, are decidedly fifth-rate.

In “A Thousand Other Worlds,” Grayson the protagonist writes a short story of the same name that literally comes to life. The story, a touchy thing on a low-cholesterol diet, sees a Truffaut double bill at the Carnegie Hall Cinema with its author, then demands to be sent to The New Yorker. Grayson obliges. The story is rejected.

The following week he takes it to the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference where John Gardner criticizes it: “To me, it’s just nonsense. And it’s not only nonsense, it’s immoral. Immoral.”

So the story bites him in the leg.

So Grayson realizes his anthology is a cornucopia of crap but would rather laugh about it. He would rather write another silly little story that parodies his own work than accept the responsibility of working harder to express meaningful ideas written in traditional literary form. Gardner was right: this nonsense exemplifies stream-of-consciousness with no conscience.

Call it avant-garde departure from traditional literary structure. Call it playful exercise with traditional literary form. But do not call such nonsense literature, for such literature makes “Betty & Veronica” a selection in The Classics Club.

And now, I must find someone I really despise.

D.G. Wnek, a journalism graduate, is currently working for Northwestern Bell.

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