James Wood is one of our strongest literary critics, a diligently close reader who tethers his critical rigor to an admirably expansive vision of the place of fiction in our imaginative and moral lives. Of course, since those lives, and our literature, have grown steadily more pinched, Wood often writes most energetically in a quasi-prophetic mode of righteous despair, damning the straitened, show-offy and character-resistant gestures of many postmodern writers and praising those works that seek to engage bigger questions.
…even when Wood’s claims wander onto shaky ground, the reader is still fully engaged, and continuing the argument on his terms. One can ask for no more from a critic — though the lively, learned and enthusiastic pages of “The Irresponsible Self” do give us much, much more.
Go now and read the good stuff in the middle.