Hmm. Somewhere I have heard of an author as reclusive as J.D. Salinger (who has no further need to defend his privacy). No, not the Italian Elena Ferrante (also a pseudonymous invention), but an American. Rather than face what he (assuming the gender itself is not fictional) calls “a false and destructive system” that is nonetheless “a reality of our world,” Pearson notes that his response is to “manufacture disposable authorial personae for every book,” making each one earn its own way rather than piggybacking on whatever reputation a previous title may have earned its author.
That sounds like an honorable approach, as Pearson’s interviewer notes. Will it work? “Probably not,” Pearson concedes. “The reading public, and especially professional reviewers, tend to be pretty dismissive of new authors.” He allows that “skeptical” or “indifferent” might be a better characterization than “dismissive,” for unknowns lack the benefit of the doubt reflexively ceded to well-known authors. While Pearson recognizes that he may be consigned to “an utterly disjointed and fruitless literary career” as a result, there is an upside: He will not be forced to participate in a “dishonest system that I don’t believe in.”
Terrific, this seems promising enough to look into! We have an unknown author published by an unknown press with a huge chip on his shoulder about the state of our literary culture. What could be more interesting—albeit common—than that? But wait a minute, this is metafiction, fiction layered atop the fiction to orient our view of Cow Country itself. The interview is a fabricated story in a fabricated publication. Could someone be dropping clues like a row of bread crumbs, designed to stir in readers the thought that Pearson’s views are remarkably in line with those popularly believed to be held by a certain chimerical, widely known but seldom glimpsed author?
It is hard not to see some validity in Pearson’s assertions about unknown writers facing an uphill battle, given the silence that has so far greeted Cow Country. Certainly its publishing route is a factor as well, for widely recognized houses and imprints and independents such as Knopf, Farrar Straus and Giroux, Norton, and Graywolf, and a handful of others, do have an advantage when it comes to gaining the attention of reviewers and review-section editors.
To return, finally, to the question of the book’s sensibility and Pearson and Pynchon, my highly subjective but very strong impression is that the two authors are closer than kissing cousins, they are joined at the hip. The off-kilter sensibility one sees in the work of both would not be, in the words of the college accreditors, easily “replicable” by another, in my opinion. Encountering Cow Country was like going to a thrift shop and finding designer clothing with the labels cut off.
If I am in error, to the person hiding behind Pearson I would say, To be taken for Pynchon is no small compliment but an enormous one, and your mimetic abilities in emulation of his sensibility are admirable. To Pynchon, I would say, Don’t fret, and issue a reminder that imitation is the highest form of flattery, no?’