William Kotzwinkle Kotzwinkle, William (Vol. 5) - Essay

Kotzwinkle, William (Vol. 5)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Kotzwinkle, William 1938–

Kotzwinkle is an American novelist and writer for children. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 45-48.)

Here it is only March, man, and we already have the funniest book of 1974. [The Fan Man is] the story of Horse Badorties, man, a fellow who says man a lot and who has a lot to say to any man….

Horse Badorties is obviously an unusual person. So also must be William Kotzwinkle who has invented Horse in this short, artfully structured, supremely insane novel about a freaky quasi-Hindu-shmindu brahman who is one with the ridiculously filthy, worn-out world. It is Buddha's story turned inside out, glopped up and set in Manhattan, notably the East Village where Horse's ever-shifting shit pile is situated.

Kotzwinkle's artistry is such that you take the allusions to Buddhism and Hinduism for granted as merely arcane tidbits from the weird, eclectic Horse Badorties speech pattern. But the fan obsession, man, begins to form a religious pattern of its own….

And so as Horse gallops along through his densely packed realm we perceive him not as another Ginger Man, which at times he seems to be, but as a lowest-level saint of dreck and yecch, a holy man climbing up from the oily, filthy bottom muck of Central Park lake, following Buddha's path, lugging a red, white and blue hot dog umbrella to protect himself, moving toward a cosmic consciousness of all things. (p. 32)

Wearing one Japanese, one Chinese shoe, uncoding the Tibetan Book Of The Dead and dealing Acapulco produce via Colorado, Horse walks into American literature a full-blown achievement, a heroic godheaded head, a splendid creep, a sublime prince of the holy trash pile. Send congratulations to William Kotzwinkle, also a hero, man.

This must be Kotzwinkle month. Since the above was written, two more Kotzwinkles have surfaced, one new, one three years old. The new one is highclass porn, Nightbook, a paperback original, and the old one is new in paper, a collection of stories: Elephant Bangs Train, published first in 1971. Neither book has anything like the impact of The Fan Man, which though short and episodic is nevertheless ambitious and cohesive. But both new ones are erratically funny and Nightbook is nifty dirt. (p. 33)

William Kennedy, "Horse Badorties," in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1974 by The New Republic, Inc.), March 2, 1974, pp. 32-3.

William Kotzwinkle holds the minority opinion that sex can be funny. Amid the sex education mania that has already slowed United States population growth to zero, this novelist is a prophet of the ludicrously lubricious. Small wonder that ["Nightbook"] contains recurrent references to Demeter, goddess of fertility. Kotzwinkle characters are plugged directly into the life force, albeit subject to frequent short circuits.

"Nightbook" is something of a parody consisting of alternating ancient and modern episodes—all dirty. The author throws around references to Herodotus, Plutarch and Homer, although his real antecedent is visibly Henry Miller. Semiramis and Artemis rub elbows, etc., with 42nd Street peepshow girls and contemporary freaks. In his mingling of the scatological and the mythological, Kotzwinkle is into legends that might have surprised Bullfinch. He doesn't seem to know Ishtar from Aphrodite, or, for that matter, Sophocles from Aristophanes. No matter. There are plenty of classical scholars, but there's a scarcity of earthy, Demetrian humor. (p. 38)

Martin Levin, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1974 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), March 17, 1974.

The only thing interesting about William Kotzwinkle's lame "Exultate! Jubilate!" from what seems like the pre-dawn age of lower-East Side hippiedom is how he manages to get so many "man"s ("And here, man, beneath a pile of wet newspapers is a shirt, man, with one sleeve") onto every page [of "The Fan Man"]. On page 69, there are fifteen, but the jackpot is probably page 126, with twenty-three. (p. 142)

The New Yorker (© 1974 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), March 25, 1974.

William Kotzwinkle has other celebrants, and is felt by many to be on a leading edge of American fiction. For my part, I think [The Fan Man] is so cute it could hug itself. (p. 129)

Richard Todd, in The Atlantic Monthly (copyright © 1974 by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass.; reprinted with permission), May, 1974.

William Kotzwinkle's The Fan Man is a modishly bizarre offering that comes both admired by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. and professing admiration for Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., but nevertheless does contrive its own engaging brand of egocentrically crazy talk. Talking is Horse Badorties, man (every sentence, man, has 'man' in it somewhere, man), a special kind of junkie, zestfully piling his pads with garbage and sheet music…. [The] novel scrapes into redemption, just, through its hero's loving-hating involvement with New York City…. The Fan Man's energetically disposed reflections on urbanity will at least earn it a footnote in someone's thesis on city fiction. (p. 871)

Valentine Cunningham, in New Statesman (© 1974 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), December 13, 1974.