Sunday, October 21, 2007

reviewers in a mood

but still there are differences.
I think Ron Charles at the Washington Post is one of the best book reviewers in North America. That said, I think he blew the call in his review of Tom Perrotta's novel.
Charles seemed to want an earlier Perrotta novel than this one, and when held up against Election or even Little Children, this isn't it. That doesn't mean the novel "lacks the necessary element of passion." For me the Abstinence Teacher succeeds on all fronts and is just another fine effort from Perrotta.
Still, Ron Charles is a class act, and isn't out to get anybody. More importantly he's plenty competent.

In the New York Times on the other hand, there's this review of Alice Sebold's Almost Moon, a book that's not getting many decent reviews so far.
But Galleycat notes a huge error.
After getting a heads up of the NYT review to come,
"I hadn't started reading the book yet, so I had to have the situation explained to me while I got hold of a copy. One of the planks on which Siegel builds his indictment of novel and author is "the juvenile contrivance of Mom in the freezer," which inspired the headline the Review gave the article, as well as the Henning Wagenbreth illustration you see here. Except that, and this is somewhat important, the protagonist never puts her mother in the freezer.
Oh, she thinks about it, all right, but at the end of the relevant scene (pages 58-61 in the hardcover edition), she realizes she isn't capable of cutting up the body so it will fit in the meat locker. So when Siegel quotes from a later scene on pages 137-142, where her ex-husband arrives to help sort out the mess—
"She tells him what happened, and they have the following exchange: '"What did you think putting her in the freezer would achieve?" "I don't know," I said... "I don't know."'"
—it's a crucial misreading of what the protagonist has done, made somewhat more glaring by the fact that the ex-husband says later in that scene that "I crawled in that window and saw her in the basement." (Italics mine.) "The error isn't like getting a character's hair color wrong," says one reader who alerted me to the issue. "It's more along the lines of saying Desdemona is a whore because she slept with Iago." For this reader, it's a crucial point, speaking to a sense of moral responsibility remaining in the protagonist that Siegel doesn't see—although one might well be able to argue that the overall thrust of Siegel's attack on the novel holds up despite this weak link in the chain."
Fair enough, Siegel didn't like the book, but this is a published author many times over and a senior editor at the New Republic. As weak links go, that snaps the chain.
I won't even go into the excessive invective in the review, the last half dozen paragraphs the equivalent of bullying.
I'm not suggesting that reviewers need to soft shoe or play nice with a book that again, seems to be getting a critical drubbing, but I've read the "freezer pages" and it's pretty clear what did and didn't happen.
Nice job, NYT.

Posted by Dave

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