In either a promotion of or a warning about book reviewing, Scott McLemee uses 1970s’s The Critic as a lead-in to honor critic Steve Kellman:
One of the sadder comic novels I’ve ever read (and the qualities of humor and melancholia do tend to go together) is Wilfrid Sheed’s Max Jamison, which appeared in Britain in 1970 as The Critic.
The title character is a prominent cultural journalist, and sometime
university lecturer, who is at the peak of his career — meaning it’s
all downhill from there. And he knows it. He’s becoming a parody of
himself. In fact, the process is more or less complete. He imagines one
of his old professors saying, “Jamison has this rigid quality,
sometimes known as integrity, sometimes known simply as ‘this rigid
quality.’ ” . . .
If Sheed’s novel holds up remarkably well after almost four decades, though, it’s not for any roman a clef
revelations about a specific person. Max Jamison is the intimate
portrait of a mind at the end of its tether — a mind not quite willing
(or able) to cut that tether, and so condemned to circle around and
around, at whatever limit it can reach, thereby digging itself into a
rut. This is not an uncommon situation.
Rereading the novel this week, I winced at one line in particular
about Jamison’s routine as a cultural journalist: “He doggedly went on
reviewing, getting better, he thought, in a field where improvement is
seldom noticed.” . . . but seldom doesn’t mean never. . . .