Environmental Lecture and Carolyn See's Snarky Review

I just wanted to post some information on the second in our lecture series at the Deerwood Center here in Jacksonville for this Wednesday. Tom Larson, the chair of the Sierra Club's Northeast Florida chapter, will join us to discuss urban sprawl, wildlife and land conservation and direct political action at 7:00 p.m. in room B1204. Please stop by to share your vision for Northeast Florida as we continue to shape our communities and manage our growth responsibly.

Speaking of responsibility, what do you guys make of this review? Carolyn See takes a look at Porochista Khakpour's debut novel Sons and Other Flammable Objects and lets her have it. The review is an open letter to the author and See mentions at the conclusion of the first paragraph that she "had actual trouble" reading the novel. She proceeds to highlight redundant verb choice, plot inaccuracies and trite allusions both biblical and contextual (Middle Eastern mythology).

It goes without saying that writers need thick skin to succeed in this business. I know that when I attend workshops, it's important to be honest but tactful in doling out criticism. I also view it as a skill to be able to take constructive criticism and put it to good use. Take what benefits the writing and put those things aside that don't. And so I suppose that my curiosity is with See's tone and her tact. Is this review over the top?

I think it is. I think See's judgments have merit, but the problem is with the delivery. It comes across as pompous and patronizing. She attacks the veracity of the blurbs that Khakpour collected and the advance praise for her debut piece, which does come across as a bit of a Red Herring.

It sounds like Khakpour's debut novel (an important point to consider--not a pass, just an important consideration) has some flaws. Maybe there are some things she can do better as she gets back to the word processor. But I don't think any writer needs this tone attached to what should be an exercise in constructive criticism.

A friend at the college let me know about this story, but the consistently perceptive galleycat also ran a spot on it. You can follow the link to Khakpour's blog from galleycat to see her reaction to the drubbing. If you get a chance to read the review, please let me know what you think in the comments section below.

And as an aside to this discussion, I tend to follow the King/MacDonald school of thought on dialogue attribution. See finds it tiring that Khakpour uses the verb "snapped" seventeen times after the mid-point of the novel. Like King/MacDonald, I'm a simple "said" kind of guy and I find that I edit for these things in the final stages of manuscript polishing.

1 comment:

Lisa said...

I just finished reading Flammable. Then I read See's review. While I understand See's issues and I'm not saying they have no merit, the way she comes across is -- what I like to call -- A HATER. It's one thing to point out a novel's weaknesses, but to come off the way she did makes it seem like she was just ready to find fault with the novel, like she was writing the letter review thing in her head prior-to-reading.

I do not agree with See's comment that symbolism trumped character development. I mean, come on. A celebrity named their kid Pilot Inspektor. And in reality we often experience resonant themes.

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