By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
This conundrum perhaps explains that wild excess of rage, that extreme uneasiness that many writers feel on receiving not just bad reviews but reviews in general. (“Nothing less than unqualified praise” would do, thought Steinbeck.) It is not merely that a huge ego is taking a bashing, though that is bad enough. It is that the writer is suddenly obliged to confront the obscure doublethink behind his chosen career.
The good review, the literary prize, offers a foretaste of eternal glory. Any writer worth his salt sees through it at once. Did I do it for this? he wonders, incredulous, taking his place at the awards dinner. The bad review tells him that even this illusory refuge will be denied. The hell with them, then! What matters is that the publishers pay. Oh, but if it was money I was after, I should have changed profession years ago! In his novella A Perfect Hoax, Italo Svevo, who was denied any recognition till very late in life, imagines a writer in his late 50s who ceased to publish decades before. Free of the anxiety of reviews and recognition, he finds it much easier to nurse vague dreams of eternal literary glory. He is a happier man.
I open our mailbox shortly after lunch. Ecco! He’s struck again, my cruel clippings collector! I recognize the small white envelope at once. The uneven, childish lettering spelling my name seems menacing and malevolent. The name of the street we once lived in — Via Delle Primule, Primrose Way! — is loaded with irony. Why does he do this? Or she perhaps. Are my pretensions to fame offensive somehow? Not that I’m going to read the envelope’s contents, of course. I long since learned to put the things straight in the bin. My reviewer will remain as anonymous as the man who mailed me his slating. It is my name I want fixed in his head, not his in mine.
Still, I can hardly deny that something has happened. The cruel world is present to me. The stupid business of literary fame. Damn the man! And bless him too. For here comes a rush of adrenaline. I head for my desk. If it’s true, as so many religions claim, that an attitude of renunciation and withdrawal is the only road to spiritual improvement, nevertheless it’s been an awful long time since a Buddhist monk wrote a good novel.
The anger is firing my mind. Let the letters come. In the end, you have to admit this creepy guy is faithful to me. He’s been following my career for years now. He must trawl through the papers for bad reviews of my work. It is a kind of recognition after all. I imagine the scruffy envelopes continuing to arrive long after my departure to the last address of all: the ashes under the rose tree, or in the goal-mouth at Verona’s football stadium if I have my way. Okay, let’s give ’em something else to carp about, then. I pick up my pencil. What’s the subject today, children? Let’s write about human solidarity in a godless world!
Tim Parks is the author ofDestiny, A Season in Verona, andAdultery and Other Diversions. He lives outside of Verona, Italy.