The 'Renaissance Man' is a multi-faceted individual whose fingers are in just about every pie you could imagine, fostering a variety of abilities and mastering many quite well. His expertise is wide-ranging and there's seemingly no limit to his subject, as is demonstrated in More Collected Couteau: Essays and Interviews, which gathers Couteau's insights and encounters with a diverse range of individuals.
More Collected Couteau is divided neatly into two segments. The first section of essays probes the anniversary of the publication of Tropic of Cancer, the pain and anguish of writer Hubert Selby, and the lasting impact of countercultural icon Jack Kerouac with equal aplomb and vivid imagery.
It doesn't matter if you haven't heard of his subject before, either: take Hubert Selby, for example. Couteau's analysis is striking and revealing. The joy of reading Couteau's works lies as much in his penetrating, crystalline language as it does in the works or figures being examined, and so readers receive a wide-ranging treat that examines victims, vengeance, mortality and immortality through an inspection process that educates even those unfamiliar with the subject.
After proving his prowess at the essay form, he turns to the heart of the collection: its interviews. These range from discussions with Albert Hoffman (activist and the discoverer of LSD) to interviews with literary figures such as historian and cultural commentator Robert Roper or poet Christopher Sawyer-Lauçanno.
One of the pleasures in this collection is that readers needn't have prior familiarity with the writers' works. Couteau provides that familiarity by the structure of his interview questions, which probe the foundation beliefs of each figure.
From the possibility that Nabokov suffered unconscious doubts about his own value that led him to insist that the world acknowledge him as a genius to the underlying patriotism of counterculture icons who were commonly seen as rebels, both essays and interviews are designed to make readers think about underlying psychology, social perceptions, and cultural change.
Readers seeking not just a literary presentation but a lively analysis of selected wordsmiths and their lives and influences must add More Collected Couteau to their reading lists. It's a powerful presentation that offers much insight and food for thought, and which should find its way into many a college classroom as well.