A White Male Author Emails a Woman About Her Bad Review of His Book
Salutations! I stumbled across your review of my novel today totally by accident when I was Googling my name. I read it and let me start by saying thank you, thank you, thank you! Not many reviewers, including the male ones, have really been able to grasp the aesthetic weaknesses (and, of course, the strengths) of my novel quite like you. In fact, I enjoyed your review much more than some of the glowing ones I received praising my work as “gorgeous pretty esoteric” or “like a reworking of a postmodern classic everyone has already read.” While reading your scathing critique of my work I couldn’t help but applaud you for your surprisingly thorough, articulate review. Good for you for speaking your mind!
Okay, so, although I genuinely did enjoy your witty review, even though it was at my expense, I don’t quite understand the point you hammered home the most. You called my protagonist “pretentious as expected” and “stuck in his own internal monologues,” but, my dear, he was meant to come off that way. And I know you said you understood the purpose of my authorial intent, saying “the author’s rendering of the main character is ripped straight out of a beginner’s textbook to satirical literary technique,” but I’m not quite sure you really do get it. I put a lot of thought into exploring the psyche of a lauded, tenured English professor at an elite university (really an untapped market there), so I can safely say that my way of portraying him was the most intellectual option. See, what you don’t seem to understand, is the irony of the whole thing; by making my protagonist seem like a self-important know-it-all, I’m actually highlighting that he doesn’t know anything. Do you see what I’m saying? Hopefully that explanation will help you understand my work a bit more!
I’m glad we can have a mature, adult conversation about this. I think it’s a reflection of who I am as a writer that I’m not looking to reviews for validation, and I can separate myself from what people are saying about my work, whether it’s true or maybe just a little off the mark. Besides, to be honest, I don’t really care about the readerly experience. That’s not something that should be on an author’s radar. It only holds him back. I mean, literary criticism scholars aren’t writing papers about the “readerly experience” of Joyce or Hemingway now, are they? Instead of wasting time wringing my hands over making my book enjoyable and interesting to people other than myself, I have loftier goals: to create a mood, to plumb the depths of human emotion, to explore the soul-crushing ennui of the American intellectual. You mentioned in your review that it’s obvious I care nothing for the reader’s experience of my work, and you’d be correct in that assessment. But, since I’m telling you that’s intentional, that’s not really valid criticism then, is it?
I want you to know that I’m working on my second book now and that I’ll really try to take your critique to heart. I’m struggling, though, with how much weight to give your opinion and how much I should trust my unique artistic aesthetic. Even though you didn’t seem to catch my clever irony, I gotta tell you that a lot of people, most people, really like that sort of thing. Maybe you can read up a bit on that technique before you check out my next book!
In good spirit, I’d like to offer you a review of your review: “coherent, well-written, but a bit snarky, and it soon became evident that the reviewer didn’t like the book because she just didn’t understand it.” Ha ha, I kid. Isn’t it fun that we can be playful like this? But to be serious here for a moment, I really appreciated your review despite its faults. You really are quite a good reviewer, and, with a little more time spent doing research, you could be a great reviewer. Cheers!
A nominee for the 2017 Pushcart Prize, Jen Corrigan‘s prose has appeared or is forthcoming in The Rumpus, Pithead Chapel, The Tishman Review, Hypertext Magazine, and elsewhere. She is a prose editor and book reviewer for Alternating Current Press. Visit her at www.jen-corrigan.com.