Novelist Peck was America's harshest book critic before he retired from disemboweling his peers' literary efforts. He's now focused on writing books, most lucratively a forthcoming alternative history trilogy on which he's collaborating with Heroes creator Tim Kreig.
Peck was born on Long Island and raised in rural Kansas, where his mother died "under mysterious circumstances" when he was three, and his father went on to remarry three times. As a child Peck says he read constantly to occupy his time, and began writing stories in the fifth grade. After attending Drew University in New Jersey on a scholarship, he entered the Columbia MFA program where he studied under Susan Minot and Joyce Johnson. In 1993, at age 25, Peck published his first novel, Martin and John, about a young writer whose boyfriend dies of AIDS. He's since published three other novels, a memoir about the abusive men in his family (What We Lost), a collection of his most withering reviews (Hatchet Jobs), and the first in a series of children's books, The Drift House Chronicles. He's also a member of the creative writing faculty at the New School and a columnist for Out magazine.
A new novel, The Garden of Lost and Found, was due out in fall 2007 from Carroll & Graf, but was withdrawn by Peck and his agent Richard Abate after it was announced that the imprint would cease to exist once its owners, Perseus Book Group, merged with Avalon Publishing Group. Another novel, a literary thriller entitled Body Surfing, will be published by Simon & Shuster/Atria in late 2008. The author's biggest payday, however, came in April '08 when Abate sold Peck and Tim Kreig's alternative history/sci-fi trilogy to Crown Books for $3 million. The forthcoming series, which is set from the '60s to the near future, is said to be about a man who possesses superpowers as the result of C.I.A. LSD experiments.
Peck has blamed everything wrong with contemporary literature on James Joyce, Thomas Pynchon, and other writers with the gall to write novels. "I have reached a place of complete and utter dismissiveness when it comes to contemporary fiction. My only goal is to either ignore it or destroy it." Which, at least to the authors he's reviewed, sounds about right. Peck's most famously negative review was of Rick Moody's memoir Purple Veil, in which he called Moody "the worst writer of his generation." The takedown sparked an outcry among New York literati; Slate subsequently published a Freudian analysis of Peck's anti-Moody sentiment and chronic sadism. Moody retaliated by creating the character Randall Tork—"an ugly, troll-like, unlovable homosexual wine critic"—in his book The Diviners. (A peace between the two was brokered in early '08 at a fundraiser, where Peck submitted to having a cream pie thrown in his face by Moody.) But he's had other enemies as well: In 2004, Stanley Crouch, enraged over Peck's review of his latest book, found the critic lunching at Tartine and smacked him in the face. Crouch claimed he got phone calls commending him for the move.
The gay writer lives in the East Village. For years, Peck was the platonic roommate of Choire Sicha, the former managing editor of Gawker.