Absinthe Literary Review, Book Reviews Spring 2002
B O O K   R E V I E W

Spring 2003

Rants & Raves by Nathan Leslie  


Rants & Raves
Nathan Leslie
PublishAmerica, Baltimore
185 pp. $19.95




Rants and Raves, the first in a prospective trilogy of short story collections by John Leslie,  has a couple of fairly substantial problems. Luckily for Mr. Leslie, very few of these rise from the writing or the stories themselves. Though the author remains a touch rough around the edges and resorts to passive verb use a bit too often for comfort, his stories are generally well-considered and do generate a good deal of dynamic and sustaining interest.

At its heart, the collection is a pointed commentary on male-female relationships, told almost exclusively from a gaggle of peculiar male perspectives (accent on peculiar). The men in Leslie’s stories are all alienated from women in some measure. Some come off as unapologetic misogynists, some dwell in a world of violent rape fantasy, some merely seethe in a funk of confusion or weakness, unaware of man’s “proper” role in contemporary society. This passage from a story entitled “The Rationalist” gives a good sense of this psychological slant: 


“I desire to be taken seriously. As evidence, my amorous goal: to acquire a lover of good standing who firmly believes in the dictum that men and women are not created equal. To wit: that men are substantially the superior sex, who shall design and dictate the larger whims of the weaker. I am a man of compassion. I seek the ultimate goal of a woman’s liberation through her awareness of her own—albeit inferior—social position and standing.”


A chauvinistic narrator not exactly designed to rouse sympathy in an enlightened modern reader, hmm? This would be true were it not for the ironic actuality of the story, wherein this seemingly hardcore MCP narrator is in fact a browbeaten Mr. Mom whose wife treats him like a child, whose attempts to be “taken seriously” by other modern women end in humiliation, degradation, and laughter at his expense. Most of Leslie’s piggish protagonists are pathetic to an extreme degree—proof that the author is aware of the preposterous nature of his characters’ assertions and dreams in the modern milieu. It should be said that despite this inherent preposterousness, many of the fantasies, thoughts and actions of these pathetic men are perfectly valid in form and argument, and as such cannot simply be dismissed as caricature. Men like this do exist, often ridiculous, occasionally dangerous. These strange almost laughable ideas are not so far from the unexpressed truth for much of America, and Leslie’s work would be valuable if only for bringing some of these anathematic subjects to the table for inter-sex discussion.

So, the subject is interesting, the writing is fairly accomplished and the author shows significant promise—what’s the beef here?

Apart from weak design (homegrown all the way) and a misstep or two, the problem with Leslie’s work can be boiled down to two words: Publish America.

Publish America is a web-based publishing concern—little more than a glorified vanity press—catering to writers who almost unequivocally should not be publishing yet. (In truth, Leslie’s work despite its positives, shows a writer about a year or two short of publishing viability; much potential, but not yet there.) 

So what? you say? So fledgling writers want to publish; shouldn’t they be allowed to?

Yes, they should be allowed—Land of the Free, Home of the Brave and all; whether they should publish is a different question—a question to which the answer is almost inevitably NO. Especially given Publish America’s ridiculous pricing system, which pushes books like Leslie’s 185-page softcover Rants and Raves to a nauseatingly expensive $19.95. If people won’t buy Pynchon or Foster Wallace at this size and price, what the hell makes these essentially untested, self-published writers think that anyone in America is going to buy their poorly produced or mediocre works? There is almost always a downside to self-publishing, and for Rants and Raves the downside is that it shows its warts and one huge chancre of a price tag. Despite some counterbalancing positives via Leslie’s waxing gift, we cannot recommend a book like this given such a hefty and commercially heinous price (thanks to PA). We are in fact considering a blanket rejection of all Publish America books submitted for review (and books from similar publish-anyone, screw-author-and-reader presses) .