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Tuesday, October 23, 2007


....we have discussed painful rejections before on the Rouge Wave but this one takes the cake. Well, it's not actually a rejection, it's a review. And it is creating small shock waves in the literary world because it was - well - a drubbing. It got personal. It was mean. But (insert very small voice here) damn, it was entertaining.

Those Rouge Wavers who follow literary reviews have probably already seen Lee Siegel's review of Alice Sebold's new novel, The Almost Moon. It is a splatter fest. Here are three excerpts:

"Sebold sashays blithely from ludicrous descriptions of ridiculous shifts in tone."

eh, a bit snarky but check this out:

"There is no plot in this novel. It is all free disassociation."

wow. but then - the closer:

"After you've finished this insult to the lumber industry, your health care provider won't cover your search for a cure."

So - what do Wavers think? It is okay that the New York Times, a venerated institution, published a review that crossed the line into mockery? Where is that line? Are book reviews meant to entertain as well as inform? Did Siegel cross the line?

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odocoileus said...


This is the same Lee Siegel who coined the term "blogofascism" for the insults and abuse which dominate so much internet discourse.

Pot meet kettle.

Sebold's a big girl, with plenty o' money in the bank. The notoriety will doubtless bring her more readers. This is all any writer can hope for. Readers will make up their own minds in the end.

I love those books that unearth dismissive reviews of works which later became classics. The Critics Were Wrong, et al. Critics, like everyone else, are prisoners of their own biases.

velysai said...

Wooooooow...that was harsh.

I particularly enjoyed: "'The Almost Moon' is really like one very long MySpace page."

Anonymous said...

If you like schadenfreude, then check it out: Siegel made a little tiny mistake:

Anonymous said...

Having been butchered by once or twice in my lifetime by a reviewer, I tend to not read what the critic's write (or listen to what they say) these days (though I did when I was younger)...but they do have influence and can hurt a book or movie especially in the bigger cities where there are so many more choices to be made for your entertainment dollar.

And I hate that a reviewer (especially one from such a respected newspaper like the NY Times) holds such power, but that's the way it is and we deal with it the best we can.

Adam said...

I have sent this comment numerous times due to my login info. You might get this already.

Appropriate or not Siegel seems to have a personal problem with the author's subject matter (maybe he/she was raised and put through college by an uncle who cut trees for a living). Subjectivity. Didn't you post about? And how many time we read horrible reviews on movies that almost always made load of money? Do people listen to critics? I remember reading the worst review for BABEL in Time Out magazine, a premier magazine for New Yorker. They gave it one star and suggested Iñárritu to retire because he "does not know how to tell stories." I could not disagree more.

Steve Axelrod said...

In this case, I don't know. The book sounds bad, the subject is grisly and I have no interest. But the Times (and Kakutani in particular) is capable of revolting hatchet-job reviews. Check out Michiko's slash job on Jonathan Franzen's last book. Quotes are brutally misrepresented, their meanings sometimes completely reversed (There should have won a gold medal for this type of mental acrobatics in the cheap trick journalism Olympics. I can just hear the announcers -- "A 180! Very difficult! And beautifully executed. She turned the author inside out and never even dangled a participle! The Chinese judges love that move!).
Seriously, though --there was a note of personal bitterness in the article, as if they had just broken up or something; raw and creepy. If I were the editor I would have spiked it. I might have even fired the reviewer. She did a similar ambush on Al Gore, in a review so disassociative and mendacious I assumed it was politically motivated. It was certainly worthy of Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh.
But they're not worthy of the New York Times. That's the point.

Julie Gray said...

Know what I think? I think that a reviewer has a responsibility to critique material in an intelligent way; something that both consumers and followers of literature can in some way use when they make choices of what to read, purchase, etc. I do think that reviews can have artistic merit and that the writer's personality should shine through but a critic should avoid showboating, vendettas and bile. It isn't serving the public, the material or the critic to do so. Will Sebold survive if not thrive? Sure. But I do think the review should have been at least addressed by the editor in the form of a conversation with Siegel as to motive and ultimately the relative value of such a review.

Anonymous said...

Another review of the same book was published in the NY Times on October 9th. But this time the reviewer was Michiko Kakutani, and the review -- while negative -- wasn't such a hatchet job.

It's at the URL:

JPS said...

I may have mentioned this before, but one of my best reviews ever was in a small Australian newspaper, a word-for-word reprint of the blurb for my first novel, co-written by my editor and myself ("This stunning first novel...portends a brilliant future for the author," etc.). The laziness of the reviewer ("Write a review? Never. Read the book? You must be joking") had paid off bigtime.

We both had a huge laugh over it and hoped, considering how large the paper's readership probably was, that all four of them might be inspired to buy the book.

DougJ said...

I have a feeling that this type of criticism will continue to be tolerated or encouraged in an effort by traditional newspapers to compete with alternative media.

Siegel would definitely fit in at the user boards on IMDB or AICN.

On a side note, I was looking at chest freezers the other day and wondered how many people buy them in case they need to store a body at some point. Because, really, who needs that much ice cream? Oh. I guess I answered my own question.