How to Deal with a Vicious Review of Your Book

Dwight Garner’s case for critical criticism came out just in time, looks like! “What we need more of, now that newspaper book sections are shrinking and vanishing like glaciers, are excellent and authoritative and punishing critics—perceptive enough to single out the voices that matter for legitimate praise, abusive enough to remind us that not everyone gets, or deserves, a gold star.” Well he’s in luck… on part of that?

Five days previous came this NYTBR piece on the latest by Dale Peck, by Ron Powers, who you likely don’t know, but was the first TV critic to win a Pulitzer. In 1973. Lesse: “self-­absorbed overreaching, a compost of glutted detail, absurd simile, strained and repetitive metaphor, forced aphorism; of dialogue that ricochets from the pulpy to the dead-on to the flagrantly author-imposed, disgorging exposition under the pretext of speech.” Hi-o!

And then this weekend brought another harsh takedown of another small literary writer: the novelist, critic, memoirist, editor and teacher (local man so busy!) William Giraldi, on novelist Alix Ohlin. What to even quote? Maybe “schooled not in Austen but in Susan Lucci,” or, “When self-pity colludes with self-loathing and solipsism backfires into idealism, the only outcome is insufferable schmaltz.” Or I guess try: “her language is intellectually inert, emotionally untrue and lyrically asleep.” What on earth does one do then?

Alix Ohlin hasn’t tweeted in four days, since before the review came out. She is presumably now in the stage of a bad review that comes after “drinking” and before “revenge.” (Probably she’s currently in “hysterical laughter.”)

Dale Peck, on the other hand, dug in and found the pullquote from the review, occurring in a parenthetical: “(Please don’t ask. Read the book.)”

And then he did some therapeutic meme Photoshopping for his Facebook.

It works.

Of course, this being the age of everyone being a critic, you can always decide for yourself, by buying Ohlin’s book or by buying Peck’s.