John Metcalf and His Works


57 pages
Contains Bibliography
ISBN 0-920802-73-7






Reviewed by Don Precosky

Don Precosky teaches English at the College of New Caledonia and is the
co-editor of Four Realities: Poets of Northern B.C.


This book is a part of ECW Press’s admirable project of publishing new studies of 100 major Canadian writers. John Metcalf is particularly descrying of such a study, for he hasn’t been receiving the amount of critical attention he has coming to him as one of Canada’s best writers, and editors, of fiction.

Any examination of a still-living writer, especially one like Metcalf, who is at the height of his powers, will be tentative. It cannot put the lid on his achievement or draw the borders around the territory he has claimed. Living writers have an irritating habit of getting up and walking around. But Rollins’ study is more than tentative: it’s downright passive. Metcalf is sharp and acerbic: a satirist. But we don’t get a sense of this side of him. The essay needs a shot of adrenalin.

I have a few more specific criticisms as well. Rollins accepts too easily John Moss’s classification of General Ludd asa comic novel; but it’s satire, not comedy, and very accurate in its depiction of higher education — at least as it’s practiced at the college where I teach. Also, where’s Kicking Against the Pricks? It’s a marvellous book, a juicy and controversial commentary on the current literary scene, mixed with invaluable advice for practicing writers. And speaking of practicing writers, one of the chief services that criticism about a living writer can offer is constructive suggestions to that writer, something Rollins’ piece does not provide.


Rollins, Doug, “John Metcalf and His Works,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 24, 2024,