What’s surprising is that Peck himself is also a novelist; one might have expected him to exercise a little more sympathy when dealing with his fellow practitioners. Doesn’t he ever worry that those writers he savaged will one day find an occasion to bite him back? Such an occasion now presents itself in the shape of a memoir, What We Lost, in which Peck recounts the traumatic early years of his father, Dale Peck Sr, growing up poor in Long Island in the 1950s. If, as Larkin wrote, “man hands on misery to man”, this book could be a useful starting point in locating the source of the critic’s volcanic outpourings. Hatred seems to run in the Peck blood like a virus.
In the end, Quinn is admiring:
Much as I would like to give the slayer of literary reputations a taste of his own poisonous medicine, this finely wrought memoir makes it, in all conscience, impossible.