I liked Giraldi’s review. There, I said it. But, the thing is, I’ve been afraid to say it. I don’t want to upset people I respect, like Dave Daley, editor of FiveChapters, who made a mysterious FB post when the review first went up, saying that “[w]hat the New York Times Book Review has done to a great writer this weekend is indefensible trolling and gratuitous nonsense… .”
As soon as I read the post, I went over to the NYTBR online– which I never read any more– and scrolled through until I found a review of two books by Alix Ohlin. I am not a fan of Ohlin’s fiction. I have never read more than a couple of stories of hers, but I found them both difficult to engage with. To be fair, the English-language fiction I tend to most engage with is written by dead people or alive queer folks, working class folks, Jews, Southerners, people of color, poets, or Alice Munro.
When I read the review, I enjoyed it for what it was– a sort of performance art. Giraldi’s verbal diamond snaps had me whooping on my couch. It was the most fun I’ve had reading a review since Dale Peck’s review of Moody back in 2002. Upon the unleashing of Peck’s review, I remember people in my literary community in Austin and online hissing, “For shame.” (The Believer was launched, a year later, with an essay whose title featured way too many fucking exclamation points, calling for an end to snarky reviews, by Heidi Julavitz– whose work also bores me.) There were a couple of people who secretly also liked Peck’s review, and we would hide in coffee shops and talk about it. We loved Peck’s novel, Martin and John, way more than any novel we’d read by Moody.
I was at a party shortly after the review came out when I heard people saying that Dale Peck had the worst man boobs of his generation. Which is funny. But basically, it meant that, though it’s not cool for Peck to bash someone, we can bash his body because he did.
The same shit is happening with Giraldi. Apart from a few admirers, including Lorraine Adams, who made a twitter admission that she now has a crush on him, Giraldi’s getting bashed by the same people who think he shouldn’t have bashed Ohlin. They’re taking apart his opening sentence and other phrases from his review, the same way he took apart Ohlin’s sentences and phrases. Some people are actually using the word “shame” to describe what Girladi should be feeling now.
“Oh, but he did it first!” Yawn. I went to middle school 25 years ago, and do not enjoy revisiting it.
A day after Giraldi’s review came out, Salon ran this essay, by J Robert Lennon, about the “proper” way to write a negative review. In it he cites a review he wrote to show his point. There’s another problem. His review is just as negative as Giraldi’s– but it’s nowhere near as fun or energetic.
Parts of the Slate essay about the internet being too nice feel true to me right now– because I am a bit scared to post this. But I have to be able to say what I think, to express my opinion, and not feel bullied into silence when I don’t agree with those around me.
Getting a shitty review sucks. I’ve experienced it. I’ve also gotten emails and comments on my website, when it allowed comments, that I am a heathen, a fatass, a prostitute, and a two-bit diarist. What can a writer do in the face of all that? She can drink some tequila, sulk, dance, and move on. Because that’s what you risk when you publish– it’s all part of the pact you make when you allow your work to leave your hard drive and have the privilege of it appearing, perfectly bound, in a reader’s hand.