Tama Janowitz Criticism - Essay

Raymond Sokolov (review date 22 July 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “New Girl in Town,” in Wall Street Journal, July 22, 1986, Vol. CCVIII, No. 15, p. 28.

[In the following excerpt Sokolov objects to the substance of Janowitz's prose in Slaves of New York.]

Uptown in the shabby genteel offices of The New Yorker they have been waiting at least a decade for the aged editor William Shawn to step down. At age 80, he has become a laughingstock, devoting his once-distinguished, once-amusing magazine to n-part screeds on staple grains and vanished airplanes, indulging an old man's whim for young women writers of dubious (literary) virtue.

The latest of these Shawn-genues is Tama Janowitz, whose stories...

(The entire section is 608 words.)

Alice H. G. Phillips (review date 12 December 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “From the Hip,” in Times Literary Supplement, December 12, 1986, p. 1409.

[The following review provides a brief synopsis of Slaves of New York and comments on the book's range of characters and themes.]

From its opening tale, related flamboyantly by a rich girl turned prostitute, to its final case history of a modern sado-masochistic relationship, Tama Janowitz's first collection of short stories [Slaves of New York] is designed to attract the attention of the young and the trendy. But then, almost all of its characters are New York artists, art dealers, designers or models with reputations to make and high rents to pay; they know that...

(The entire section is 605 words.)

Michael Dibdin (review date 5 February 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Ghosts in the Machine,” in London Review of Books, February 5, 1987, pp. 12-13.

[In the following review, Dibdin discusses Janowitz's thematic concerns in the novel Slaves of New York.]

How do you like to be approached by a strange work of fiction? Do you prefer a hearty handshake (‘Call me Ishmael’), a more discursive line (‘All happy families are alike’), or a low-key manner (‘For a long time I used to go to bed early’)? What about this, for example?

After I became a prostitute, I had to deal with penises of every imaginable shape and size. Some large, others quite shrivelled and pendulous of testicle....

(The entire section is 2362 words.)

Sonia Pilcer (review date 18 October 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Pre-Literate in Manhattan,” in Los Angeles Times Book Review, October 18, 1987, p. 10.

[In the following review, Pilcer briefly considers several thematic implications of A Cannibal in Manhattan.]

Perhaps you've seen her Amaretto ads. The most visible of a highly publicized group of young writers who have been hailed “the literary brat pack,” Tama Janowitz has brand recognition. Her new book [A Cannibal in Manhattan.] has been launched with the breathless hype usually reserved for rock acts.

Despite the off-putting title, I was ready to be entertained by her deadpan humor and offbeat characters.

Unfortunately, Janowitz fails to find a voice for Mgungu Yabba Mgungu, as she did for her down-town Slave denizens. “I am nothing more than a savage,” says Mgungu. “I don't understand even the simplest theories of electricity.” Yet this cannibal does know his American brand names as well as the city's hottest clubs.

One hopes that Mgungu might be given some original observations to chew on. Instead, we are served such whopping platitudes as, “A life in the United States. How was I to know what people said or did is not the same at all as what they mean?”

The book itself features a photo scrapbook straight out of fanzinedom, including Janowitz and friends cavorting as the characters, complete with makeup and hair-stylist credits. I guess the hottest shot is of a wizened Andy Warhol, portraying Cannibal museum curator Parker Janius. Throughout, the pages are peppered with drawings of skulls and other exotica.

Ballpoint through his nose, Mgungu is a savage dressed up with nowhere to go but the cover of Time magazine. After all, cannibals should get their 15 minutes of fame too. The other characters are blatant stereotypes including heiress Maria Fishburn, played by Interview's Paige Powell, rock star Kent Gable, Parker Junius, pizza parlor Joe and a few others who listlessly manipulate poor Mgungu.

It could even be said that Mgungu's naive tone reflects his creator, who told Paper, a downtown magazine, “It was really just me trying to be this man. To me society is a big con. I never quite figured out the skills to get along in society.”

Finally, what we have is a portrait of greed: a publisher who will package a best-selling author's juvenilia and a promising writer who doesn't know the difference. Could Mgungu be an allegory for Janowitz's cynical exposure in American media?

Peter Reading (review date 4-10 March 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Into the Faded Air, the Torpid,” in Times Literary Supplement, No. 4,431, March 4-10, 1988, p. 245.

[In the following review, Reading discusses the texts and subtexts of A Cannibal in Manhattan.]

To the South Pacific island of New Burnt Norton, home of the sometime cannibalistic, almost extinct Lesser Pimbas, comes nubile New York billion-heiress Maria Fishburn—ostensibly to teach algebra to the hapless natives under the auspices of the Peace Corps, but really because she fancies the tribe's president-elect, five-foot purple-skinned Mgungu Yabba Mgungu, having seen his picture on the front of the National Geographic years earlier and fallen in...

(The entire section is 531 words.)

Elizabeth Kaye (essay date November 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Fifteen Minutes over Soho,” in Esquire, November, 1988, pp. 170-84.

[In the following essay, Kaye presents a detailed portrait of Janowitz's personal life, commenting on her professional milieu and various critical attitudes toward her work.]

From the back she looks like a stick figure drawn by a child. From any angle, she clearly aspires to be both a rebel and a waif. Her abundant hair has been likened to a bird's nest, a furry wigwam, a lion's mane. It is going gray at the temples.

Had she had less distinctive hair, her life might have been quite different. The hair has been useful in furthering the career of a writer whose most notable...

(The entire section is 7293 words.)

Julie Salamon (review date 19 October 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Male Cross-Dresser Support Group, in Wall Street Journal, Vol. 220, October 19, 1992, p. A12.

[In the following brief excerpt, Salamon praises portions of The Male Cross-Dresser Support Group for its wit and intelligence.]

Tama Janowitz has solved the casting problem for her latest novel, The Male Cross-Dresser Support Group. She has written and directed a film version, conceived as a promotional gimmick.

Without having seen the film but having read the book, I strongly recommend the film. It's only 40 seconds long, an appropriate amount of time to spend with Ms. Janowitz's ruminations about her heroine's...

(The entire section is 295 words.)

Tom Shone (review date 14 November 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Eight Million Characters in Search of an Author,” in Spectator, November 14, 1992, pp. 39-40.

[In the following review, Shone contemplates the humorous aspects of Janowitz's style.]

Eighties junk fiction is showing its paunch. ‘The ancient tallow of fast food’ hangs around Tama Janowitz's new novel [The Male Cross-Dresser Support Group]. The most frequently used adjective in the book? Greasy. The pizza her heroine eats at the start: ‘A spot of grease glistened in the centre’. The lamb chops she remembers eating as a child: ‘greasy, gristly’. The hamburger on page 72: ‘greasy’. The hair of the schmuck on page 205: ‘filthy, greasy,...

(The entire section is 805 words.)

Elizabeth Young (essay date 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Library of the Ultravixens: The Lost Phallus—Where did I Put It?—in the works of Tama Janowitz, Mary Gaitskill, and Catherine Texier,” in Shopping in Space, edited by Elizabeth Young and Graham Caveney, Atlantic Monthly Press and Serpent's Tail, 1992, pp. 142-93.

[In the following essay, Young discusses Janowitz's oeuvre within the framework of postmodern feminist theory.]

“Slipping through the stitch of virtue, Into crime”

(Djuna Barnes, The Book of Repulsive Women)*


It is the 1950s and our heroine is sitting...

(The entire section is 8333 words.)

Susan Bolotin (review date 20 October 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Hiawatha Goes Hollywood,” in New York Times Book Review, Vol. 101, October 20, 1996, p. 13.

[In the following review Bolotin provides a summary of the plot of By the Shores of Gitchee Gumee.]

The creative muse manifests itself in many forms. Even Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's “Song of Hiawatha” has provided its share of inspiration, albeit mostly to parodists. But one has to wonder what it was about the famous narrative poem that got Tama Janowitz's juices going. Could it have been the notion of an innocent culture heading for its inevitable destruction, or the image of the magnificent Hiawatha revenging the sins perpetrated against his mother? Was it...

(The entire section is 648 words.)

Tamsin Todd (review date 20 October 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “This is the Forest Primeval,” in Washington Post Book World, October 20, 1996, p. 6.

[In the following review, Todd addresses issues of Janowitz's style and theme while providing a summary of By the Shores of Gitchee Gumee.]

Here's a bright gem of a book—literally. The jacket lettering is done in electric-blue and lime-green; a neon-yellow hairless dog is freakily emblazoned mid-page; and in the background are surreally rolling bubble-gum-pink clouds, which, if you remember, also featured prominently on the cover of Douglas Coupland's Generation X.

Which reference is confusing, because the distinctive landscape Tama Janowitz...

(The entire section is 833 words.)