Reviewing Me, Reviewing You

While promoting my deconstruction of Andrew Klavan’s Man and Wife, I made the mistake of linking myself on what I thought was a fan page but turned out to be a page managed by Klavan himself. Suddenly (and pretentiously) I felt his eyes and the eyes of his core fans turning on me, putting pressure on the quality and content of my eventual review.

I should’ve left it there, but I made the mistake of digging around in Kalvan’s info and background, reading some of his posts, and checking out any other titles he’d written or was working on. I discovered some opinions and standpoints, which I didn’t wholly agree with on the surface level, despite appreciating their research and construction and the fact I found them stimulating reads.

Unfortunately this stumped me. I was no longer critiquing a random Crap Looking Book, but work from an author with whom I was now familiar, and I had to constantly second guess myself to produce a review that while wholly subjective, was only subject to me, and not to any further outside influence.

Hitler liked to paint. Uhuh. We know this, and we look at his paintings and say “Hitler did those.” Quite frankly, they’re awful and inconsequential paintings that would have been ignored except for the fact that he was Hitler.

Lovelorn stalkers write poems. They’re not the kind of poems you want to read, and they make for a damn uncomfortable narrative voice experiment when you try to emulate them, but without the identity of the author providing the foreknowledge that this is a “Stalker Poem” it’s just an over-passionate, unnecessarily graphic love poem.

My point is that without the author the text is just a text to be freely attacked or praised. No matter how contrived or ridiculous, characters, settings, and plots are isolated properties. However with the author’s politics and bibliography in hand, the reading is coloured as it becomes not a narrative in its own right, but the weighted words of a person that the reader may or may not agree with.

The author’s experience and personality is of course essential to a full understanding of the work they produce, but when one of your key objectives is to look at novels solely as individual books, maintaining a distance becomes problematic. It’s why you’ll never see me review by anyone I’ve actually met.

I was free to be downright vicious about Linda Barnes’ The Snake Tattoo, because I never imagined anyone would have read the book, never mind that she herself or anyone she knew would read the review, and I’d be free not to worry about wounding authorial pride or alienating a fanbase, and wouldn’t present myself as a pedantic and unpublished dickhead, screaming at the mistakes and folly of others while weeping in the dark over my own lousiness.

The whole experience with Man and Wife gave substantial weight to my belief that I can’t just be openly scathing in review, and should consider all the aspects of writing and publishing that create a text. Not to protect the author’s feelings, and not to respect where their standpoint, but to show a little more effort than telling the world where someone went wrong so we can all point and laugh at them.