Matt Cohen Morris Wolfe - Essay

Morris Wolfe

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Johnny Crackle Sings] is the sometimes ironic story of a pop singer who, on the verge of success, gives up his career….

What Cohen seems to be attempting is the novel as a kind of catch-all. "Our minds," says a voice in the novel, "are green garbage bags." "Right on," says the reader.

The work consists of a number of fragments—some meaningful, some not—about and by the singer himself and some of those around him. The trouble is that there's no sense that those in whose heads and lives we're permitted to wander are interesting or matter to anyone including their author. (I have a bourgeois hang-up with the idea that characters should at least seem to matter to their authors.)

Most of the novel's fragments, like all of its people, are tedious. There are a number of one-liners [as well as aphorisms and lengthy sections of affected prose]….

[Alain] Robbe-Grillet says that because the world exists primarily as a chaotic presence in which past, present and future, truth and untruth are intermingled, what novelists should be doing is recording that presence. Maybe so. Certainly, that's what Matt Cohen seems to be attempting in Johnny Crackle Sings…. Unfortunately, Cohen is so self-consciously concerned with what he's doing that by the end of the novel it isn't the chaotic presence of the world that has impinged on the reader's consciousness but rather the technique and tedium of Matt Cohen's novel.

Morris Wolfe, "The World as Chaos" (copyright © 1972 by Saturday Night; reprinted by permission of the author), in Saturday Night, Vol. 87, No. 2, February, 1972, p. 37.