Monday, April 17, 2006

It can be hard to know how to respond to negative reviews of one's work. Generally, my policy is to say nothing, publically that is, unless the review is extra-belligerent, mean-spirited or factually inaccurate (and if you write fiction you more than likely get some of all of those from time to time: it would appear that there are more than a few apparently over-caffeinated, probably angry, skimmers of novels and stories writing for review outlets). Ocasionally, though, I have been moved to write letters to the editor or notes to the reviewer in question about reviews that, although at least partially negative, were particularly interesting or thought-provoking. Some of the resultant exchanges have been very worthwhile. I've certainly learned a few things.

Once I bumped into someone who had been pretty harsh in print on my first book. He said he had had occasion to revisit the book and thought maybe his review had been the way it had been at least in part because he hadn't really gotten the thing the first time around. He was slightly sheepish about it. Of course, he may mainly have been sheepish because we were standing there talking about it. He may, also, have been feigning sheepishness and may not, for that matter, have actually gone back to look at the book. He may, in fact, have been shining me on about not having gotten it.

I do wonder though how often that happens. I mean that reviewers just haven't gotten it. This not having gotten it, when it happens, probably has a lot to do with doggedly projecting one's own aesthetic frame onto a work it just doesn't fit. I'm thinking here of the absolutely unfair drubbing Gary Lutz's I Looked Alive took in Bookforum a year or so ago. Unfair because the reviewer really wasn't reading Lutz's book -- she was reading the space between Lutz and the book he hadn't written but that she liked a lot.

It's all pretty strange. And takes up rather more of one's mental space than it should.


Blogger cord said...

I look forward to the posting of one or a selection of "resultant exchanges".

And maybe the sheepish fellow was feeling the presence of a bellwether.

11:58 PM  

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