I'm Neal Pollock and You're Not: Roll over, Hemingway, and tell Capote the news.

The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature, by Neal Pollack, Brooklyn: McSweeney's Books. Illustrated. 153 pp. $16.

To paraphrase Oscar Levant, there's a thin line between good writing and bad writing, and Neal Pollack erases it forever with "The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature," his flippant sendup of the literary elite. The proudly callow Neal Pollack of the byline, a 30-something who was most recently a writer at The Chicago Reader, has imagined the entire corpus of a name-dropping, self-aggrandizing, oversexed litterateur, also named Neal Pollack. "When I'm on assignment in, say, Turkey...the women of Istanbul are launching themselves at me like rockets," Pollack writes. "Salinger, as you know, was once a great writer like myself," he says elsewhere. This fictional Pollack--a graduate of Exeter and Harvard, now in his 70's--considers himself the greatest magazine journalist, novelist and poet in the history of American letters, not to mention a helluva radio producer. He collects Pulitzers, Bookers and National Book Awards the way furniture collects dust.

The anthology's 24 short "excerpts" from seven decades of the fictional Pollack's journalism serve to parody the genre of literary journalism, and the joke proves surprisingly durable given its narrow premise. At first glance, Pollack's model seems to be Gore Vidal. The fictional Pollack slums in Hollywood as a screenwriter before getting blacklisted; he keeps a summer estate in Malta; he pines for his murdered Exeter roommate, Wally Trumbull, the way Vidal does in his memoir "Palimpsest" for his lost boyhood love, Jimmie Trimble. Pollack writes, "All my inspiration is derived from a solitary source: a waking, eternal longing to once again hold Wally Trumbull...in my tanned and muscular arms. I remember the first night we lay together, the moonlight reflecting off his Captain America pajama bottoms, his hairless chest glistening with the tender sweat of youth."

But Pollack's target isn't just Vidal. He's drawn a bead on every high-paid magazine writer and alpha-male novelist to swagger through the pages of GQ, Esquire or Rolling Stone; every New Yorker or Vanity Fair puffer fish to file first-person, ego-enriched letters from exotic datelines; every overwriter interviewed by The Paris Review. Think Norman Mailer. John Gregory Dunne. Christopher Hitchens. Gay Talese. Michael Herr. Mike Sager. Truman Capote. Peter Matthiessen. Martin Amis. Think Norman Mailer again.

Deftly ridiculing these masters of the form, Pollack forever soils the genre of literary journalism for even lesser voices. I defy anybody to read Sebastian Junger with a straight face after consuming "The Albania of My Existence," the first entry here: "I've been going to bed lately on a pile of jagged stones covered only by a thin cotton blanket half-eaten by moths. ... I have personally borne witness to much human suffering. People here are beset by unwanted refugees, obscure diseases and limited opportunities to express themselves through fashion. I must tell you: things are not good."

The fictional Pollack shares a meal of dirt with the impoverished locals, watches as "the village children play soccer with the bloated carcass of a cat" and then looks on as a mob impales a man on a stake in the town square. "I want to ask: for what crime was this man sentenced to die? But I do not speak Albanian." Packing his bags, he muses about the human calamity that would mean nothing if not channeled through Pollack, the weary foreign correspondent: "I cry silent tears, and pray for the people of this sorrow-ridden country, and for myself." The only cliché that's missing is the ethnic music they cue at the end of a foreign dispatch on NPR's "All Things Considered."

This collection takes an efficient swipe at white liberal writers who cruise the projects looking for story subjects in "I Am Friends With a Working-Class Black Woman" and Hemingway pretenders in "Portrait of an Andalusian Horse Trainer": "The colt loomed monstrously in front of a swirling wall of rain clouds. He was El Caballo de Sangre, The Horse of Blood, the death horse." (The book's sly "Publishing Notes" claim that the piece originally appeared in The Saturday Evening Post as "I Get a Kick Out of You, Spain.") In "Interlude: The Pollack-Wilson Letters," Edmund Wilson concedes that Pollack is his better. "Your life of Tocqueville is remarkable, as is your recent trilogy of short novels about Cambodia," the ailing dean of American literature writes, confiding in a letter that begins "Dearest Nealster" that his last book will be about Pollack "and the friendship that we have shared."

If I read the young Pollack right, he means more than to cripple hacks with the mace of parody. Like Dave Eggers and the other literary monkey-wrenchers at McSweeney's Quarterly, where some of these pieces first appeared and which published this book, Pollack longs to make literary noise of his own. But first he must vanquish the practitioners of a school of journalism that substitutes a dilettante's superficial experience for genuine reporting. Or maybe Pollack just wants to have fun drawing silly mustaches on famous writers.

Alas, the art of silly-mustache drawing--maestros like Woody Allen and Bruce McCall will tell you--is a minimalist one. Whenever Pollack extends the joke much beyond 600 words, the effect wanes. Try as I might, I couldn't find the laughs in "Teenagers: The Enemy Within," the book's longest piece, an ostensible investigation of "the secret world of teenagers," or "The Subcomandante Rides at Dawn," a longish "dispatch" from Chiapas. Generous readers will give Pollack credit for attempting to sustain the preening persona of his alter ego at book length. But stingy readers, having gotten the book's joke halfway through, will ask why Pollack squanders his comic gifts with writing that is every bit as self-indulgent as the bloviations he wants to take down.

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