April 26, 2006



Another not so good review. Part of me feels I shouldn’t do this. Bad Karma, especially now that my book is sitting in the hands of reviewers. Another part of me thinks it’s bad opportunism. I should write a glowing review and forward it to the author, maybe she could help me. Another part of me thinks why bother writing a bad review: it’s not like she’s selling hundreds of thousands of books, she needs the help just like any writer, I’m sure she’s a nice person whose heart is in the right place. Most of me just wants to write what I think.

I found out about his book because the editor, Mad Max Perkins, who wrote the blog Book Angst 101, posted about its release. It was interesting to me that the book was a noir book. I figured he’d be editing hyper-literary books that had nothing to do with me. The book’s about a former junkie who’s hired to find a young junkie in the streets of fifties New York. Sounds up my alley.

Started liking it at first. It was refreshing to read a hard-boiled female narrator. Part of the reason I wrote Shirley Shave was because I wasn’t reading a lot of fiction with female protagonists that had any kind of hard edge--sort of an Underground Woman. The female writers I like are harsher: Katherine Dunn, Joy Williams. This is going to sound like sexism: a lot of female writers are unwilling to be ugly. Another way of saying that is they don’t go to a place that interests me. So it was interesting to read a female character with a male voice. Her name’s Josephine and people call her Joe. If you picked this up in the middle it would take a while before you figured out it was a female narrator.

Which is actually sort of a problem. I’m contradicting myself. The problem is that the narrative doesn’t stray at all from noir prose of the past. I kept wondering when the book would go in some new direction, but it doesn’t, it feels from start to finish like a pulp book from the fifties. Except not as weird as Jim Thompson. It never paints outside the lines. I think she feels she’s being daring because it’s a female narrator and she’s a recovering junkie--but neither of these are that unique in pulp literature. It also gives it a sense of history to be looking back on the NY streets. But it’s not quite The Alienist or Luc Sante either. I think the book might be for people who have never read a crime novel so it seems like an amazing window into a world. It is cool that the book is marketed as "fiction" and not "crime," that it’s not being pigeonholed.

This review only comes from 23% jealousy. I’ll admit, I was reading wondering why this book is getting the full mainstream press treatment when I’m not. But I also wanted to like it, and I started to, until I found the book never wavered from its formula. And it’s not just about me, there’s a slew of other crime novels being written. It could have a home on a place like Soho Crime. I don’t know why this one got picked up and others didn’t. But then, publishing doesn’t make any sense.


Rebecca said...

I'm halfway through it and let's just say it's not what I thought it would be. I have to agree with you about the voice and tone of the story. I was expecting to be surprised and so far, I feel as if I'm trapped in some black-and-white gangster flick, with all the stereotypical characters. Also, she seems to repeat herself a lot, which drives me crazy. I'm only halfway through though, so maybe I'll be surprised.

Mark Pettus said...

I haven't read it, but I recently discovered Sara Gran the hard way - through the Internet. After reading your review, I can't help but wonder if it isn't just her turn. Sometimes you pay your dues with early work that doesn't fly off the shelf (even if its your best work), and earn your reward on later stuff that may not be strong enough on its own to warrant the attention it receives. (Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea certainly wasn't his best work, but it earned him the Pulitzer the same year he won the Nobel, go figure.)

Publishing doesn't make sense, but then again, what does. Sometimes it's just your turn to get lucky - and sometimes it isn't. You've got talent, and you've got that certain something that draws an audience - your time will come.

Just my opinion. Been wrong before.

Empty Drum said...

Henry, how the hell do you have time to read so much?

hoboscholar said...

That was a pretty positive review all in all Henry but it does seem unfortunate that she had a chance to really paint outside the lines and didn't. Concerning publishing, isn't everything planned out to the nth degree now, pre-marketed and practically focus gouped so they are sure they know they are hitting the right demographic? I don't know, just kind of assumed that this was the case with the kind of books rolling out. If this is the case, she certainly hit it with the title. The look. Everything. Remember "The Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing"? That cover and title practically jumped into peoples shopping baskets, like...fish.

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