Never Mind the Pollacks
By Neal Pollack
HARPERCOLLINS; 260 PAGES; $23.95
In the past three years, Neal Pollack has carved out a small niche satirizing literary pretension. His MO: to create a straw figure of himself -- an undisputable king of letters -- then to burn the effigy of his own greatness. In his first novel, "Never Mind the Pollacks," the self-dubbed "Greatest American Writer" leaves literary lampoons behind and turns instead on the ripe targets of rock criticism. If the subject matter has changed, the central device is the same: Pollack blows himself up to cut himself down. In the book, a prissy young journalist named Paul St. Pierre sets out to research the trail of a legendary but recently deceased rock critic who just happens to be named "Neal Pollack."
So begins a sometimes rollicking tour though the hot spots of rock history. We encounter the imaginary Pollack through the eyes of St. Pierre: Pollack, who is part wandering genius, part sniveling drug addict, has spent his career with a Forrest Gump-like knack for turning up at the site of every great moment in rock history, matched only by a Lester Bangs-like way of turning up there keyed.
St. Pierre follows Pollack's trail from a blues riff on a Chicago street corner to Elvis' first recording sessions, to Springsteen's New Jersey debut, to Kurt Cobain's suicide. It seems that the figure of Pollack was a ubiquitous visionary force in rock. Pollack was there when Dylan went electric.
It's too bad that Pollack's delivery is often as dull as a late-night rock infomercial. If there are layers to the satire, there are no layers to the characters, and by about the third chapter the book seems as flat as an untuned guitar -- and not the way Jimi Hendrix played it, either. As St. Pierre follows Pollack belching and puffing his way through history, and St. Pierre's sterile marriage to a cultural critic goes down the toilet, by the end so has one's interest in the book.