William Giraldi’s Review of Alix Ohlin: A Failure in Four Parts


Last weekend, William Giraldi’s New York Times review of two new books by Alix Ohlin blew up the literary twittersphere (which is to say that literally tens of people were talking about it). The discussion about Giraldi’s incredibly mean-spirited critique coincided with a debate about niceness vs. honesty in reviewing, started by an intriguing (though, in my opinion, somewhat alarmist) article at Slate. But Giraldi’s piece is irrelevant to the nice vs. honest debate and completely worthless to either side of the argument, since his review is not only dickish, but also dishonest.

An Honest Review

Basically aims to tell the reader three or four things:

1. What the book is about

2. What the author is trying to do

3. How well the author succeeds in doing what s/he is trying to do

4. What the book’s place in the larger conversation of literature is (part 4 is often omitted in shorter reviews)

Giraldi fails in all four regards.

A Brief Summary of How Giraldi Fails in All Four Regards

1. He makes some effort to describe what the Ohlin’s books are about, but he can barely get through a summary sentence without passing judgment on why what the book is about is stupid.

2. He makes no attempt to assess what the writer is trying to do. Instead of judging Ohlin’s work as a successful or unsuccessful example of somewhat plot-driven literary realism, Giraldi bashes Ohlin for failing as a prose stylist (though she’s not trying to be a prose stylist).

3. Giraldi argues that Ohlin fails, but since she’s not failing at what she’s trying to do, but rather at doing what Giraldi likes in fiction, that’s not a failure on her part.

4. Giraldi screws up #4 so inexplicably and completely that I’m just going to discuss it in more depth later since there’s really no way to summarize it.

A Brief Note

For the record, I have never met, talked to, or had any kind of interaction with Alix Ohlin or William Giraldi.

Part One of a Failure in Four Parts: What the Book is About

Giraldi begins his review by invoking the ghosts of Don Quixote, Tristram Shandy, Middlemarch, and Augie March. An odd choice, considering he’s reviewing the sophomore efforts of a relatively underground writer who’s been slowly building her reputation in small journals like The Southwest Review. Giraldi then dismisses all of Ohlin’s plots either because they’ve been done before or because they’re too dramatic. To illustrate the former, Giraldi sarcastically uses “of course” four times in one paragraph to summarize the obviousness of Ohlin using, for example, a therapist who is “of course wackier than her patients” or “an inadequate therapist who flees to the Arctic to mind-rescue Inuit, and who of course never wavers in his pursuit of masochistic servitude.” As for the drama, while Ohlin’s novel, Inside, might be a little too action-packed for some readers’ tastes, the stories in Signs and Wonders are deftly plotted. But Giraldi seems to think that death or sickness or trauma of any kind belong in soap operas, not literature, which leads him to compare Ohlin to Susan Lucci.

If you don’t like detective novels, you shouldn’t review a detective novel because you’ll just end up saying something stupid like “there’s too much murder.” If you don’t like plot, don’t review plot-heavy literary fiction.

Part Two and Three of a Failure in Four Parts: What the Author is Trying to Do and How Well the Author Succeeds in Doing What S/he Is Trying to Do

Ohlin is not a prose stylist—nor, in these two books at least, does she aspire to be—but she is a good storyteller. I pre-ordered Signs and Wonders on the strength of the Alix Ohlin stories I had read in literary journals over the past couple years, and reading the book, I found it a very enjoyable, and, at times, emotionally evocative page-turner. Giraldi—if his review is any indication—is not a prose stylist either; he’s a thesaurus addict who thinks that writing fancy words is the same as having style. In a single paragraph he uses “presage,” “moniker,” and “mentation.” He starts his review with “yawningly,” then bashes Ohlin for using “honkingly” (to describe a character blowing her nose).

The critic then indulges in an extended takedown of Ohlin’s language, which he thinks “betrays an appalling lack of register—language that limps onto the page proudly indifferent to pitch or vigor.” Some of Giraldi’s (extensive and obsessive) criticisms of Ohlin’s language in her novel Inside are fair. The phrase “Puppy-dog eyes” is tired, “brilliantly smart” is repetitive, and Giraldi builds a strong case for Ohlin’s overuse of the heart as synecdoche.

But Giraldi also maligns Ohlin’s use of “weird,” which is weird, because, well, there is nothing wrong with using the word “weird.” It is not, as Giraldi suggests, “the most worthless word in the English language.” (The most worthless word in the English language is obviously “timeshare.”) Giraldi complains that in Ohlin’s novel, “Teeth are described as ‘white,’ as if we needed telling.” I wish everyone would assume that my teeth didn’t need to be described by color, because, despite my frequent use of Colgate whitening products, my teeth remain an ugly cousin to white, more like the color of paper that’s been overexposed to humidity. My own off-white chompers aside, I wonder how Giraldi reconciles his anti-white teeth stance with this phrase from his own novel, Busy Monsters, which was released earlier this month: “her teeth were so white!”

Giraldi’s most puzzling criticism of Ohlin’s language is that she uses the phrase “a dive bar.” He believes that “dive bar” is an example of Ohlin’s “at-hand language,” a category in which I can only assume he includes slothful words like “shoe” or “eye.” Ohlin chooses the phrase “dive bar” to describe a dive bar because that’s what it’s fucking called. Maybe Giraldi would prefer stories in which we discard the tired “dive bar” for “lugubrious libation shack,” where we change “shoe” to “foot vestibule” and “eye” to “face periscope.”

Giraldi takes issue with “The absurdly obvious,” which he claims is what “passes for wisdom” in Ohlin’s writing. He picks out this phrase of Ohlin’s for particular ridicule: “Anyone driven to hang himself would have to be suffering deeply and terribly.” By all means, let’s do away with this absurd obviousness. But let’s not stop with Ohlin; better go back a few years and start with, say, Schopenhauer: “It will generally be found that as soon as the terrors of life reach a point where they outweigh the terrors of death, a man will put an end to his life.” Giraldi is oblivious—in this review, at least—to a pretty well-known fact of life: sometimes the absurdly obvious can also be poignant and relevant. Sometimes stating something we all know, in the right way and/or at the right moment, can have a really strong effect. Like in Ohlin’s story  “Fortune-Telling,” in which one character asks a stranger how he likes his job selling insurance, and the guy responds, “Life is long…and this is just one phase.” Well, duh. Life is long. And this is just one phase. But when I first read that story a few years ago, in the pages of Columbia, it didn’t feel obvious to me at all. Maybe that was in part because I was spending my mornings trying to avoid angry line cooks as I recovered from hangovers in a walk-in fridge. But the idea that life was long and there were different phases to it felt fresh, invigorating.

Part Four of a Failure in Four Parts: The book’s place in the larger conversation of literature

In spite of Giraldi’s misunderstanding of the basic 1, 2, 3s of books reviewing, the most troubling part about his review is the last paragraph, when he tries to tackle #4:

There’s been much recent parley, in these pages and elsewhere, about “women’s fiction” and the phallic shadow it has been condemned to live in. But there’s a better argument to be had. Ohlin’s fiction will be shelved with the pop lit and never with Mavis Gallant and Alice Munro, not because of her leaden obsession with pregnancy, dating and divorce, or any inherent bias in the publishing industry, but because her language is intellectually inert, emotionally untrue and lyrically asleep.

Let’s ignore for a second one fact that Giraldi is just plain wrong about—Ohlin will never be shelved as pop lit, unless she decides to change her writing style completely—and focus on the most concerning part of this conclusion: Why does he bring up the issue of “women’s fiction” (whatever that is) at all? Especially since he says in the next breath that the failure of Ohlin’s work has nothing to be with it being “women’s fiction”? Giraldi claims that Ohlin’s writing doesn’t fail because she’s interested in women’s topics (like pregnancy and dating—in other words, the beginning of life and that which creates it), but because her language is bad. Which leads him to imply that books by women, which tackle topics of boys and rings and all those silly things, are being neglected not because of industry bias, but because they’re bad. I know I’m inferring a little bit here, and Giraldi does not actually make this statement; but because his concluding paragraph is so baffling, I’m left to try to interpret what he means. Maybe Giraldi is just not used to reviewing fiction by women, and because of this, he thinks that any review of a female writer has to include a discussion of “women’s fiction.” I can sympathize. I was equally misguided on the topic of female writers when I was a freshman in high school.

I don’t think Giraldi’s critique is necessarily misogynistic, and even if I did, I would not say so in print, since that’s a heavy charge, one that should not be leveled without being very familiar with a writer’s entire body of work or the writer as a person, which, in regards to Giraldi, I am not. But it is a little unsettling that all the unreservedly positive quotes or comparisons in Giraldi’s review are from or about men (Ezra Pound, David Lodge, William Gass, John Updike, and John Erskine), and all the negative comparisons are to women (Danielle Steel and Susan Lucci).

In his concluding paragraph, Giraldi shows a little admiration for two female writers, when he points out that Ohlin will never be mentioned in the same breath as the great Mavis Gallant or Alice Munro. But by choosing to unfavorably compare Ohlin to Alice Munro, who shares little in common with Ohlin besides occupation and two X chromosomes, Giraldi insults both writers. The closest Giraldi comes to praise is to say that it is to Ohlin’s credit that her story collection was “breathed on by Updike’s Maples stories.” Which I guess is kind of a compliment, but the image is so creepy that it’s hard to take anything positive from it.

Why Giraldi’s Review Is Indefensible

After the review was published, J. Robert Lennon kicked off the debate at Salon, and a lot of support for Giraldi came from bloggers and commenters who hadn’t read Ohlin’s fiction and were going only on the grossly misleading quotes Giraldi pulled from her books. Giraldi’s defenders don’t seem to understand that the problem with his review isn’t that it’s negative, but that it takes a dishonest approach to criticism. As one blogger put it, “to hate negative criticism…is lame.” But the problem isn’t negative criticism. It’s that, after having read Giraldi’s review, Alix Ohlin could easily tell him the same thing that Thomas Wolfe told F. Scott Fitzgerald’s: “you think I’d be a good writer if I were an altogether different writer from the writer I am. This may be true but I don’t see what I’m going to do about it.”

Honest Reviews Matter Because…

Honest, critical reviews—which are vital to literature—not only inform the reader, but, if they are especially on point, can also inform the author. Michael Chabon has said that it was a reviewer’s criticism of Wonder Boys that led him towards writing what many consider his magnum opus, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Obviously a reviewer who doesn’t respect an author enough to assess her book on its own terms will do nothing to help her.

But the most basic purpose of a book review is to cover the aforementioned four points for the benefit of the reader. Since Giraldi covered none of the four points, I’m not sure what the purpose of his review was, except to promote his new novel. (Incidentally, the parts I’ve read of his debut book are actually quite good, which just goes to show the danger of judging a writer from one piece of writing.) I can only imagine how much it sucks not to have your writing eviscerated—since that’s the risk you take whenever you publish—but to have your writing eviscerated in the most influential book review in the country for not being something it doesn’t want to be. Since most of the talk on this subject has included the disclaimer “I’ve never read Ohlin’s books,” I think it’s worth mentioning that Alix Ohlin is a very good fiction writer. From what little I’ve read, William Giraldi may also be a good fiction writer, but he might do well to stay away from this kind of book reviewing, lest people forget it.

Johannes Lichtman reviews indie books for The Oxford American. He teaches courses on experimental literature and artistic appropriation in the Graduate Liberal Studies Department at UNC Wilmington.

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  1. Brooks Sterritt

      I think the best reviews (“dickish” or not) are works of art in and of themselves, an unmentioned requirement that Giraldi does fulfill.

  2. S. Tremaine Nelson

      Generally a fan of all things #meta, and this — a review of a review — was great.

  3. L.A.

      Great review indeed. Hope to use it in writing my best essay xD

  4. Johannes Lichtman

      Definitely a valid point re: the purpose/requirements of reviews, which I neglected to mention. But how does Giraldi’s review fulfill that requirement?

  5. Shawn Travis

      But Alix Ohlin’s most positive reviews haven’t been honest either. A close family friend reviewed her books for Toronto’s Globe and Mail calling her the best Canadian writer since Leonard Cohen – which clearly she is not. Giraldi’s review was written in the context of such false and misleading reviews.

  6. tao lin

      ‘David Lodge has pointed out that “the title of a novel is part of the text,” a part with “considerable power” to presage what awaits. Alix Ohlin’s sophomore effort yawningly announces itself as “Inside,” a forgettable moniker that suggests everything and so means nothing.’


  7. Johannes Lichtman

      Thanks for pointing that out. The G&M review is here if anyone is interested. While I don’t have any knowledge of that reviewer’s relationship to Ohlin or her family, I can say that the G&M review is awful for several reasons, the first being that, while the review includes two quotes, neither are from the author being reviewed. Which is weird–something I can’t remember ever seeing before. And the G&M reviewer makes the same mistake as Giraldi, calling upon Woody Allen, Ingmar Bergman, Mordecai Richler, and Leonard Cohen (though I couldn’t find the part about Ohlin being the best Canadian writer since Cohen) to compare to Ohlin. Which isn’t fair to the author or the reader. This kind of reviewing is just as bad as Giraldi’s.

      But I don’t think that Giraldi’s review gets off the hook for being written “in the context of such false and misleading reviews.” (Are their other Ohlin reviews like this?) If his review is a direct response to G&M review, why doesn’t he make any reference to it? And if it isn’t a direct response, then why does he employ the same shitty reviewing techniques as the G&M reviewer to unfairly castigate–as opposed to unfairly praising–the author? Is it fair to the writer–or the readers of the NYT review, most of whom probably never saw the G&M review–to write a dishonest review in response to a dishonest review?

  8. Bobby Fischer

      This is awesome. For what it’s worth, I read “inside” and liked. I read Ohlin’s first novel, “The Missing Person,” and also liked it a lot. I really liked her first short story collection, “Babylon and other stories.”

  9. Johannes Lichtman

      I could be crazy, but is htmlgiant eating the comments on this thread? I just saw like eight disappear…

  10. Usedtocould

      “an odd choice, considering he’s reviewing the sophomore efforts of a
      relatively underground writer who’s been slowly building her reputation
      in small journals like The Southwest Review.”

      Dude, she’s been included in BASS and BNAV. Inside and Signs and Wonders mark her third and fourth published books on major presses. She is by no means an ‘underground’ author scrapping by in small presses.

      I feel sorry for Ohlin. I think we all do. But she ain’t a gnat.

  11. kr

      Why does an “honest” review have to include any of those things? Giraldi seemed pretty honest to me: he disliked the writing, made no bones about this, and explained why he disliked it.

  12. jackmaggs

      A-fucking-men. Love this response. So dead-on. And for the record, I have read Giraldi and not Alex Olhin. If anything, his review of Ohlin had a deprecatory effect on the aftertaste of an otherwise solid book, Busy Monsters. Have you no shame, Mr. Giraldi?

  13. Nick Mamatas

      There is no such category of writer as “not a prose stylist”, and no writer should be immune from having his or her prose style critiqued.

  14. Michael Fischer

      Do people spend this much space breaking down dishonest positive reviews? No, they don’t–they complain about them in passing (“oh, there are too many ‘nice’ reviews…sigh!”), but they don’t break them down paragraph by paragraph like here (and elsewhere over the last week). Giraldi’s tone could’ve been dialed down a bit–he could’ve made many of his points in a less abrasive tone–but methinks he struck a nerve that needed to be struck in today’s backslapping literary world. And Nick Mamatas is right: it’s pathetic that some folks don’t care about style. If you don’t care about “prose style,” please choose another vocation and save some trees (or go write Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys books–okay?).

      I just ordered Giraldi’s novel, btw. I love his passion for literature–even if it gets him in trouble from time to time–as well as abhorrence of middlebrow mediocrity. I’ll take passion over playing-it-safe every time. Read Giraldi’s interviews. He talks intelligently about Gerard Manley Hopkins while many of his peers are sucking up or giving safe answers.

      “Every book lives or dies by its language”–Giraldi. Can I get an Amen?

  15. Brooks Sterritt

      [My comment was hidden due to “abuse reports” for some reason] Giraldi’s review fulfills it through its inventive use of language, which I enjoyed for the same reason I LOLed at your “lugubrious libation shack.” :)

  16. Paragraph of the Day « A Flea in the Fur of the Beast

      […] don’t agree with all of Johannes Lichtman’s takedown of William Giraldi’s now-infamous Alix Ohlen review—I’d go into why, but I […]

  17. Johannes

      That’s true. But if Popular Mechanics hires me to write about the new Corvette and I trash it because it’s not a boat–and I do prefer boats–it doesn’t matter how well I explain my thinking re: boats being better than Corvettes.

      An honest review has to include the four things I mentioned (or at least some of them) because if reader who is interested in, say, fantasy novels, goes to read a review to help him decide whether he should buy a new fantasy novel, and the review trashes this new fantasy novel because the reviewer doesn’t like fantasy, then the reader who likes fantasy and wants the book judged on its own terms isn’t going to get anything out of that review. If you don’t like the word “honesty” for this situation, I’d say the reviewer simply isn’t fulfilling his obligation to the reader.

  18. Richard Thomas

      Well said.

  19. Darkc

      I’m not sure what you’re complaining about, as what you’ve written is incomprehensible. It was an honest review, albeit harsh. He covers the plot elements (by the way, what is plot-heavy literary fiction? And why is it not a requirement of so-called plot-heavy literary fiction to be well written?). He cuts to the chase on the other points by opining and showing that the writing is not worth reading.

      Your analogy of criticizing a car because it’s not a boat is spurious. It’s a book. He reviewed the book, with a particular focus on the words and sentences in the book. How is that unfair?

      Seems more like his taste conflicted with yours, and you couched your indignation in a noble defense of the book review. Although he does a far better job of explaining the writer’s weaknesses than you do her strengths, and his piece leaves no doubt as to who is the most competent writer in the bunch.

      As to your weasel-worded dig at his misogyny, that was kind of reprehensible, if it really was a weasel-worded dig at his misogyny (see what I did there?).

  20. frrrrrank

      Yeah but you probably follow Ohlin on tweeter or something.

  21. Guest

      The misogyny angle is ridiculous. There was nothing misogynistic in that article. So…it’s misogynistic for a man to expect more from a woman’s style than “fluttering eyes” and “singing hearts”? A misogynist would say, “yep–that’s how a woman writes!” Lazy people and their issue/agenda templates. Newsflash: everything isn’t a gender issue. Please stop diluting real gender critique by inserting gender into every single debate that somehow involves a male and female writer.

  22. O

      What Giraldi wrote was well within bounds. If you are going to write as badly as Ohlin does, you better learn to duck and cover. That her work is even published and reviewed in the Times is a miracle.

  23. Giraldi, Ohlin, and the Controversy over “Mean” Reviews « Commentary Magazine

      […] Robert Lennon rushed to to say that he “felt terrible for Ohlin.” Johannes Lichtman dismissed the review as a “failure in four parts,” although he acknowledged that Giraldi was on to […]

  24. On mean reviews in the NYT Sunday Book Review | I Came Here Just to Say This

      […] can also find another review of Giraldi’s work by Johannes Lichtman at HTMLGiant here. Rate this:Share this:ShareLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. This entry was posted in […]

  25. Matthew Cavnar

      Thank god this blog post pointed me to the Giraldi review, which summed up why I couldn’t keep reading Inside. And Giraldi’s first graf was interesting. Thus I extracted some pleasure from an otherwise disappointing experience.

  26. Richard Grayson

      I agree. Jaimy Gordon, in reviewing three of my books in American Book Review in 1984, wrote, “Grayson is not a graceful stylist,” with the assumption that all writers are prose stylists.

      And Jaimy Gordon and I became friends *after* she wrote her review.

      I think writers today need to develop thicker skins. Tao Lin is someone to emulate in this regard.

  27. Michael Fischer

      This is long…

      Jaimy Gordon was my dissertation adviser. That woman is a
      saint and one of the best creative writing teachers in the country. Unlike most profs, she’s not scared (or too lazy) to go through a student’s work
      line-by-line. She absolutely destroyed my work in my first workshop, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me.

      Before taking her class, I had bought into the notion perpetuated in creative writing workshops across the country that style is less important than plot and character. Since the 80s, we’ve entered a phase in American Literature that deemphasizes style and/or explicit discussions on style (even though the more widely accepted “minimalism” is highly stylized, despite it claiming otherwise). Like a bunch of conservative, milquetoast Puritans, many writers today are ashamed to discuss style openly, or to critique another writer’s style. “Style” is equated with flamboyance and self-indulgence. Read Kelli Wells’s (a student of Gordon’s) wonderful essay on the matter:

      Kellie Wells, “The Skirls and Screaks of the Deserving Dead” (Hopefully the links works, but you can Google the title for the PDF)

      Now, take a look at what Ron Hogan of Beatrice said about Giraldi the other day:

      “I’ll add that Giraldi shows us a particularly clear example of how self-absorbed the pursuit of “beautiful writing” for its own sake”

      Except, Ron, Giraldi said nothing of the sort in his review. He very clearly
      connected style to content throughout his review. Nowhere did he come close to advocating purple prose for the sake of purple prose. Nowhere did he take a pot shot at realism, as others have suggested, unless you yourself buy into the worst stereotypes of realism and assume that realism shouldn’t be held to the same standards as any other ism. All isms are more alike than different, and all depend on fresh language.

      Anyway, Jaimy Gordon changed my life when, after the same workshop she eviscerated my work, she said, “I believe in sentences. Any problem in a story can be addressed through sentences.” I sense that much of Giraldi’s frustration is coming from a similar place, and that Ohlin’s work—in his mind—is a manifestation of this strain in contemporary fiction that is upfront with its cowardly and lazy indifference toward style—a position that is problematic in its inherent conservatism—and that there exists a large population of writers today who support peers like Ohlin who continue to churn out indistinguishable, default prose.

      If you’re reading this, Giraldi, please understand that many of us consider you a kind of cult hero for having the balls to say what needed to be said in such a high-profile venue, even if you risked your career in the process. Many of us agree with you, though we risk flack from the groupthink PR-crowd whose primary interest is “promoting friends” and developing “platforms.” I didn’t become a writer for any of that shit, and the day I become more interested in pleasing others than myself is the day I’ll
      choose something better to do with my damn time.

  28. Roxane

      How could Giraldi “risk his career” writing a sharply negative review? That’s a bit much, isn’t it? He edits AGNI. He’s cited in BASS 2012, perhaps other editions too, and is well published. He’s not brave or a hero. There is a long history of scathing reviews. Let’s not act like this guy pioneered something. Writing a review is not a heroic act. Like others, I think his review was somewhat sexist and just not very well done but I don’t hope it has a detrimental effect on his career.

  29. Michael Fischer

      Well, you’re welcome to your opinion, but the stuff you cited predated his review. Do I think he will never publish again? No, but I do think some risk is involved. I’ll admit that I was a bit dramatic there.

      But I don’t think the review is somewhat “sexist.” Everything’s sexist these days, huh? You could argue that he didn’t need to project a possible charge of sexism in his final paragraph, but considering how charged the whole gender issue is in literary circles, I can understand why he went there.

      I also never said “writing a review is a heroic act”–I said he is a “kind of cult hero” for some of us, which is tongue-in-check. Calling him brave in this context isn’t equating him with a fireman who entered the WTC on 9/11, but you knew that already, right?

  30. Roxane

      Well then. Michael… Not everything is a gender issue, not at all, and throwing that out there to not engage the possibility that there is a gender issue here is… a strawman at best. You might check out Michelle Dean’s essay about this (but really much more) at The Awl.

  31. Michael Fischer

      It’s only a “straw man” if I’m unfamiliar with the way “gender” is written about online. So, with that said, I’ve already read her piece. Not a fan of her work. Sorry. I find most of it to be cherry-picked, agenda driven, and lacking nuance. It’s the kind of “fast copy” work on important issues that’s rushed onto the Internet too quickly that does nothing for me. BTW, you’re not even responding to the main point of my post.

  32. Trey

      so someone writes in a way you don’t like and that makes them lazy and cowardly? do you think it’s possible that other people just don’t like to write the way you want them to?

  33. Michael Fischer

      Is that really what you got from my post? Do you know anyone who takes themselves seriously as a reader who genuinely likes lines like “fluttering eyes” and “singing hearts”? Did you read the review? Those lines are ridiculous regardless of the aesthetic.

  34. Trey

      seriously, guy. still all I’m seeing is “I don’t like this writing and I am always right, so neener neener.” I don’t like lines like “fluttering eyes” and “singing hearts” but I’m more than positive that there are people who take themselves seriously as readers who do like those lines. what’s becoming clear to me is that *you* don’t take those kinds of readers seriously, and somehow think what you believe should be standard.

  35. Michael Fischer

      You have a pretty low threshold for snobbery if you think I’m a snob for hating on those lines.

  36. Trey

      “Nobody’s smart but me!”—Rumpelstiltskin, as the villain of Shrek Forever After

  37. Trey

      oh, that last one, I’m just joshing you. we disagree but it’s ok.

  38. Charles Dodd White

      I like stylish writers. I do. It’s my thing. All of the prose of Giraldi’s I’ve read suggest that he cares, I guess. But I mean, it seems pretty overwrought. I would even say self-indulgent. Maybe that’s the point, but come on, even the review is marred with a kind of self-parody. I don’t think I imagined that. Picking a few cliches in Ohlin’s writing seems a little too easy. He’s clearly bucking for attention. He knew good and well this would get attention. That’s fine. I don’t begrudge him that. But if he wants to write polemic then he should do so in an outright essay format. Play a little more fairly. The relationship of reviewer and reviewed is uneven to begin with. Using this advantage as a platform for manifesto seems flagrant and in plain bad taste. He might as well have thrown a cocktail on her at AWP. This whole Dale Peck approach is ultimately pretty trite. After reading the review I don’t want to read Ohlin. But I probably never would have. Giraldi’s book, I may have been interested in, but now I see this review and his predilection for congested verbiage, and I can’t help but see his career as a series of struck postures.

  39. Michael Fischer

      I honestly don’t get the Peck comparisons. He seems a lot more intelligent and well read than Peck. He often writes in “voice,” so I think it’s a bit unfair to not mention the relationship between his style and first-person characters. One of the issues I have with a lot of first-person today is that it sounds like the writer’s voice, not a character’s voice. There’s often no need for it.

  40. Golgonooza

      “Everything’s sexist these day, huh?”
      Sounds like you miss for the good ol’ days…

  41. Michael Fischer

      Not really. I’m all for complex gender critique. I just don’t blindly accept any and all charges of sexism or misogyny. A typical argument you see on these watered-down sites is something like, “a male reviewer reviewed a woman negatively, but reviewed a man positively, therefore, he’s sexist,” or lazy attributions of gender to behavioral qualities (“male arrogance” etc). I buy the VIDA numbers and believe sexism is a real issue, and I go out of my way to champion women’s writing, but that doesn’t mean I buy all arguments about sexism. Get it? It’s not very complicated. An argument still has to persuade, even if it’s well-intended. It’s basic rhetoric. Anyway, my post was mostly about style. So was Giraldi’s review. Feel free to respond to that.

  42. Michael Fischer

      Not really. I’m all for complex gender critique. I just don’t blindly accept any and all charges of sexism or misogyny. It’s not very complicated. An argument still has to persuade. It’s basic rhetoric. Anyway, my post was mostly about style. So was Giraldi’s review. Feel free to respond to that.

  43. Richard Grayson

      I agree with you about Jaimy. I have learned a lot from her.

      As someone who published books starting in the late 70s, I assumed that when you got reviewed, a disinterested party would be selected by the newspaper (in those days, just about any book would get around 6-12 city newspaper reviews because every newspaper had a couple of pages of book reviews every Sunday) and you’re stuck with whatever they write, however weird or idiosyncratic. At least you knew they were honest. Who wanted a review written by a friend? (I did get a few, in little magazines, from editors who’d published my work or from writers those editors had assigned the review.)

      People used to getting “reviewed” by their friends online — “oh, I am excited by this book” or “it made me happy to read this book” are the most jejune and idiotic, but even the sharpest review by a friend isn’t worth a pitcher of warm piss to me.

      I liked taking my chances with disinterested reviewers, a number of whom did what Jaimy Gordon did to your work in class: tore it apart.

      For example, in 1979, a reviewer for the Minneapolis Tribune wrote this review of my first hardcover story collection. Titled “How Bad Are These Stories?” and it has lines like “the worst book I have ever read in my life,” “a cornucopia of crap,” said the stories “have no real plot, no meaningful action, no memorable characters; they do little more than exist.”

      In talking about my stories, the reviewer says, “do not call such nonsense literature, for such literature makes ‘Betty & Veronica’ a selection in The Classics Club.” (I still think that’s a great line.) He has the book “has no literary merit whatsoever.”

      And the best part:

  44. Michael Fischer

      Good post, Richard. Agree with everything here!

  45. Charles Dodd White

      Thanks, Michael. I’m not sure how certain cliches get into print. I read a major press book with the line, “dark as the inside of a cave.” This is a young Southern writer getting all kinds of hype, and I mean, this wasn’t an exclusive problem. There was also a hilarious typo to the effect of “I need a wench up here” when they meant “I need a winch.” It’s hard not to giggle at that.

  46. Johannes

      (Tried to post this five days ago, but it didn’t show up, for some reason.) I was also wondering why your comment was hidden…Giraldi’s review was certainly inventive in its use of language, though in a way I would’ve enjoyed more in a parody than a serious review. But who knows–maybe he’ll pull a Joaquin Phoenix. Either way, I appreciate your use of LOLed and inventive in the same comment. Even Giraldi could get behind that diversity in register.

  47. BD

      Curious as to where you got the information that the G&M reviewer is a close family friend. Could you clarify or link?

  48. BD
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