Monday, October 01, 2007

Dueling Authors

I doubt that many book bloggers have been directly confronted by the authors they have reviewed (although I know of at least one nasty case of that happening), but it does happen regularly to newspaper critics and authors who dare to review their peers.

In Friday's Washington Post, author Carolyn See reviewed Porochista Khakpour's Sons and Other Flammable Objects in the form of an open letter to Khakpour. Khakpour, who happened to be in Washington D.C. over the weekend for a stop on her book tour, responded to See on her own blog. Needless to say, Khakpour was not amused by See's approach to a book review.

All of this has gotten personal now, as you will see from the excerpts from both women that I've posted below. See's comments come from the Washington Post review and Khapour's from her blog.
See: I'm writing this review in the form of a letter to you because, in part, I've been reading your witty postings on the Internet, as well as a pre-review of this first novel that describes it as "luminous." I also have been very impressed with your blurb from the furiously talented Jonathan Ames, who describes this work as "hypnotic, kaleidoscopic, gorgeous, and mad." I know Mr. Ames is chary with his praise...

Khakpour: Seventy-three-year-old See begins with some very special interest in my friend and blurber Jonathan Ames, whose blurb she refers to over and over in her piece. Nevermind Danzy Senna's blurb that people love to bring up (the young Roth comparison) or Alice McDermott's kind words, but Ames is her man. . .who she claims seldom blurbs. "I know Mr. Ames is chary with his praise, " she writes. And with that Ames readers/friends all over the world (particularly in NYC) are in stitches---this is gonna be one funny review--because you probably won't find anyone in the world who is a more generous blurber than my dear friend Jonathan...chary?!
See: This slant on things is a function of generation, I think. Until we reach the age of maybe 35, we're ashamed of our parents on principle: How could people so ultra-awful have given birth to sensitive us? Later in the novel, Xerxes finds a girlfriend, Suzanne, whose parents uncomplainingly support her in an East Village apartment. She can barely sit in a room with them without having dry heaves; they literally make her sick. Later, her mother talks like a badly calibrated robot: "Well, I'll tell you what, missy . . ." So all four parents sound and act like cartoons. Again, when we're in our teens and 20s, we all feel that to some degree, but shouldn't a serious novelist be able to endow her characters with some actual human dimensions? I had trouble with that.

Khakpour: See lets the world see she is clearly a very bitter, confused old lady ("old" only being brought up because of her own fixation on my age.) I had never heard of See until I checked out her web site, which says it all: sometimes the good ol' cat ladies are the catttiest old ladies. . .and if that sounds nasty, well, See, respected as she may be as a reviewer and writer, uses her podium to express extreme dismay with someone of my age, gender, and ethnicity writing a book like mine (or any book maybe!), and that to me seems a bit of a violation of good review etiquette, at the very least.
See: It's also true that Darius once beats his son for accidentally breaking a family picture of a Disneyland excursion. And -- at least once -- he has raised his hand to his wife. (But later on, when Xerxes slaps the face of his girlfriend, Suzanne, that's just seen as a symptom of a tortured soul, so, what's the standard here?) It's also true that Darius once hauled the family out to an Iranian protest where a zealot set himself on fire, but how was that specifically the fault of Darius? And what little boy hasn't tortured a small animal if he could get his hands on it? And why is Darius's use of physical violence ghastly and Xerxes' endearing? I tried to get it, but I couldn't.

Khakpour: Oh, and one P.S.: I don't think all kids like to "torture small animals" (she is referring to a central image in my novel of dove-burning). I certainly never did and all my friends, my agent, other writers, etc. have asked me what on earth was meant by her saying that. That image/scene in my novel is meant to be horrific and haunting,not the "norm." Again, maybe in See-land, but it was never a part of my reality, nor anyone's that I know. . .
See: Two other things, and I'm pretty sure they'll be good enough reason for you to wave this review around to your friends as proof positive that your novel is as pearls before swine: How could anyone be so pedestrian as to question how often you use the word "snapped" instead of "said?" I didn't start counting until after Page 246, when I just couldn't take it anymore, but 17 times that verb pops up -- remember that's after Page 246 -- and three times on one page. It's not just Darius; they all snap like turtles, seemingly incapable of a pleasant sentence.

Khakpour: See goes on to pick at my penchant for the word "snapped" (fair enough), but then also claims I let my protagonist look "endearing" for slapping his girlfriend. Now this plus the Ames mention is getting kinda kinky, Ms. See! In all seriousness, I treat every moment the men in my book cross any lines, esp with women, in horror, shock and awe.
See: Finally, there's the matter of passports (not to mention visas). A trip to Iran is in the offing. But Darius hasn't left America in more than 20 years; his son has never left the country. And yet there they are, post-9/11, up in the air in transatlantic planes that they've taken virtually on the spur of the moment. Where did they get their passports? Where was your editor? (I thought about calling the Iranian consulate to find out their policy about issuing visas to citizens who fled during the revolution, now that the "war on terrorism" is going on, but then I thought, it isn't my job. It was your job.)

Khakpour: . . .then Ms. See goes further about something that really has her granny panties in a bunch, her main gotcha moment in the review : she doesn't get how the Iranians in my novel could fly out of the country so easily! See claims her question "how did they get their passports?" was so harrowing, that she wanted to call the Iranian consulate! Wow, I thought. Um, which Iranian consulate is that, Ms.See? What a fabulous imagination and curious mind Ms. See must possess to refer to an entity that cannot exist due to our several decades of NO real diplomatic ties with Iran...perhaps Ms. See is still living in the 70s, before the Embassy was shut down.
Here's hoping that these two don't find themselves face-to-face anytime soon because I can only imagine the fireworks.


  1. And on the other hand, I should perhaps be ashamed to say, I'm entertained.

  2. You know, guys, I don't think that any of us can help ourselves by being intrigued by this sort of thing...not exactly the kind of thing that fits the image of most female writers at all...sort of like slowly going by a bad accident and trying hard not to stare but knowing that you will when you get close enough. :-)

  3. Oh, come on. It's literature, and there've always been enemies, and there always will be. I'm with John on this one. And I think Porochista was right.

  4. I tend to agree with her, too, Alex, because See chose to make the review a bit too personal rather than focusing on the actual book in questions.

    You're right...many great literary feuds in the past and they are always fun (rightly or wrongly) for the rest of us.

  5. That's quite something! It even includes the term "granny-panties" how often do you find that one in the lit-crit world?

    I've had an author complain on my blog about a review I did. And when I reposted a link to it on my new blog, he came back. He clearly enjoys his Google Alert a great deal.

  6. Don't feel too bad, tlb. I was threatened with a lawsuit to shut me down here once...and I've only been here since January. I learned that you have to pay close attention to the comments that you get after posting something because those things can get you in a lot of trouble.