I'm nearly half-way done with George Williams' Degenerate and because I'm personally acquainted with the author, I thought it would be interesting to evaluate the praise that decorates Williams' back cover. Let me say outright, this is not an attack on anyone involved. This stuff goes on with every new book published. My vantage point simply allows me to point these things out without excessive researching.
Most first editions, and in particular debut novel first editions, pull praise from every corner. Reviews for the book, obviously, haven't been written at the time of publication, so it's not uncommon to see praise from other authors. Here's the tricky thing: How do you get someone to read your book, much less say something nice about it? Well. You ask your friends, that's what you do.
Eric Miles Williamson, author of East Bay Grease, Two-Up, and Welcome to Oakland said of Williams' novel:
"... reads like Hemingway on benzedrine and steroids. Williams' razor-honed sentences explode like grenades, rivaling the best work of Cormac McCarthy."
Bloody impressive, right? Williamson not only compares Williams to two literary giants but describes his work, more or less as equatable. Williamson is the author of four books, his debut, East Bay Grease, being the most successful. I have never read Williamson, but I attended a reading of his work as a student at SCAD. An event primarily organized by George Williams. Williams has also taken to teaching Williamson's Two-Up in his Fiction I class, but thankfully, not while I was taking him.
I don't exactly know how these two know one another, but they certainly do. Williamson is also the editor of the Texas Review; which means even if he doesn't have out-and-out final say in book acquisition for Texas Review Press, Degenerate's publisher, he certain has pull.
I will skip the next two blurbs supplied by authors Tracy Daughtry and Larry Fondation, as I don't know if they have a relationship with Williams. The next quote comes from Adam Davies, author of The Frog King, Goodbye Lemon, and Mine All Mine:
"With his first novel George Williams has inserted himself into the pantheon of American visionaries somewhere between Cormac McCarthy and Richard Price."
A much more modest quote I think. It doesn't set up expectations by comparing the prose to that of literary luminaries (Note: American visionaries). It only suggests a significant, unique perspective on America. I have also had the opportunity to attend a reading of Mr. Davies work, specifically a chapter from Mine All Mine just prior to its publication. Davies was until recently a professor at the Savannah College of Art and Design, where Williams himself teaches. These two were colleagues for a number of years.
It also strikes me as very funny that three out of four of the quotes on the back of Degenerate reference Cormac McCarthy, whom I know from experience is one of, if not Williams' favorite authors. Even the authors (and books!) with single references such as Hemingway, Kerouac, and Nabokov rank near the top of literary totem pole for Williams. Can you imagine these folks commenting on his work aren't aware of that, given that I know it? How much easier is it to make those connections when you know the tissue is already there?
George Williams was my favorite professor in college. I'm so glad to be reading his work in print, and I wish him all the success in the world. You'll know my thoughts on his novel soon enough, but the jacket praise can't help but make me smile.