Fire the Bastards! is a scorching attack on the book-review media using the critical reception of William Gaddis’s 1955 novel The Recognitions as a case study. Although this monumental novel is now generally regarded as one of the few indisputable milestones of contemporary American fiction, its original reviews were overwhelmingly negative.
Combining meticulous research with savage indignation, Green exposes the inaccuracies, prejudices, and outright incompetence of Gaddis’s reviewers to argue that the review media is ill-equipped to deal with masterpieces of innovative fiction, much preferring safe, predictable books that reassure rather than question conventional literary expectations.
Despite his careful scholarship, Green is not a dispassionate commentator but an impassioned satirist, working in a rogue tradition that looks back to Swift’s ferocious pamphlets. Originally published as a three-part series in his own magazine called newspaper—which Gilbert Sorrentino has described as “one of the authentic minor splendors of New York literary life in the late fifties and early sixties”—this is the first time Fire the Bastards! has appeared in book form. Gaddis scholar Steven Moore has written an introduction filling in the background to this unique work and comparing the book-reviewing media of today with that of the fifties.