Vanity Fair or Unfair?
At The Rumpus, Vanessa Garcia reviewed Kathleen Rooney’s new essay collection, For You, For You I am Trilling These Songs. Garcia’s consideration was highly ambivalent, and she ultimately rendered a verdict against. Then all hell broke loose in the comments section. Daniel Nester, Kyle Minor, Elisa Gabbert, and Tim Jones-Yelvington are just some of the local (to us here) luminaries who weighed in with complaints against the review. Rumpus Books editor Andrew Altschul has responded several times; he and Nester are particularly aggressive with each other. What makes this more interesting than a flame war is that the vitriol seems not excessive, but central and perhaps necessary, to an earnest conversation about how nonfiction–memoirs in particular–ought to be read and discussed. My one critique of said discussion is that there seems to be an undercurrent of umbrage–palpable but pointedly not articulated–at the fact of a negative review having been written at all. Critics who pan things should expect to have their prerogative cross-examined, their biases speculated upon, their motives questioned, etc.–which is not to say that Garcia’s critics are wrong, only to point out that a positive review is never reprimanded for its angle, however wrong-headed or idiotic that angle might be. If we are willing to court and accept facile praise, do we have the right to demand anything better from our detractors? (Again: not to suggest Garcia’s piece is facile, or “wrong”; having not read Rooney’s book I withhold judgment on both it and the crit of it.) Anyway, the comment-thread is still active as of this morning, and the whole thing is worth giving a look to.