Reviews -- Sheer Fiction, Volume Four

Thirteen years after the previous installment, Paul West’s wonderful Sheer Fiction series here comes to an end: four volumes spanning three decades of essays, reviews, and occasional writing, and together in excess of 800 pages. For a writer like West, who makes no bones about how easily his work comes to him, who slyly admits to having “two-thirds done of a three-thousand-page novel conceived in defiance and written in joy”—and this in addition to his published work, whose quantity, diversity, and near-miraculous consistency of quality could easily drown the unwary reader—this number may not seem particularly impressive. Given, however, that these are only West’s uncollected pieces—sporadic emanations in response to an essay commission or review assignment—West’s achievement, and that of the Sheer series, seems all the more staggering. This volume in particular reads not as an assortment of leftovers, but as a chapter in an autobiography—and not just the autobiography of a man, but of his tools: West’s prose regarding itself with a measure of well-earned arrogance as its author pauses to praise William H. Gass, have dinner with Borges, or poke holes in J. M. Coetzee. The Borges piece is particularly delicious, with West making us a gift of his and the great man’s improbably perfect repartee on De Quincey, the “Boom,” and the scurrilities of academia. Equally tantalizing is the tiny scrap we’re offered from an abandoned book, a Hyde to the Jekyll of West’s The Secret Life of Words, which would have catalogued the author’s glosses on a number of writers’ pet concepts (Joyce’s “epiphany,” Proust’s “involuntary memory”). West has been doing his duty replenishing the English language so consistently and well for so long now that, in light of his recent illness, one could be forgiven for fearing for the future of the word in a world where he is silent. With Sheer Fiction complete, however, and The Shadow Factory, his “aphasic memoir,” on the way, we can rest assured that the world, and the word, are for the moment safe in the hands of their champion perceiver. -- Review of Contemporary Fiction

"In his many works of fiction, memoir, and criticism, West proves himself to be a writer blessed with a cheerfully mordant wit, an acrobatic way with words, ebullient learnedness, and a deep if wry perception of the human condition. Each previous Sheer Fiction volume has offered pleasure, revelation, and provocation, and now, in West's fourth collection of biting literary essays, he again covers a remarkable breadth and complexity of terrain....
-- Booklist, review by Donna Seaman

A sampling of praise for previous volumes of Sheer Fiction
"Thorough, passionate, opinionated—West never lets his judgments interfere with his considerable ability to evoke the texture and character of the work under review." —Washington Post Book World
"As usual, West's style is provocatively intelligent and his ideas direct and responsive to the most pertinent questions about literature."—The Star-Ledger
"With wit, erudition, and an expansive intellect, West argues for fiction that creatively manipulates its material rather than passively reflecting it.… Sheer Fiction demands the attention of any reader seriously interested in the purposes of fiction."—Wilson Library Bulletin
"An excellent field guide to numerous little-known subspecies of the modern novel from a tireless and entertaining observer."—Review of Contemporary Fiction

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