Sunday, June 19, 2005

Losing in front of my hometown

Asthmatica received its first truly negative review today. It was in the Winnipeg Free Press by a journalist named Morley Walker. It's impossible not to take this stuff too seriously. What made the review so frustrating is that the reviewer failed to see the difference between fiction and autobiography and mostly complained about my punctuation and adverb choices.

And, of course, I was chastised for not being serious. There was a cool pull quote though: "Imagine Portnoy's Complaint set in the landscape of TV's South Park." I think he thought that was a slag, but that sounds like a good book to me!

The book has been an amazing critical success and I feel very lucky for that. The special edition is on its way. But I can't help but cringe at the thought of my hometown family and friends reading such a negative and mean spirited review.

At this point, after my fourth book, I should have thicker skin than this. But I don't. I'm hurt. I wonder how many writers are truly liberated from feeling this way when a bad review happens.

20 comments:

Jonathan Ball said...

i haven't read morley's review of Asthmatica yet, but i understand the frustration of people who fail to see the difference between fiction and autobiography (though i would argue that autobiography is just a more earnest form of fiction). though i haven't published much at all, reactions from my stuff in journals and from unpublished stuff has been largely positive though still frustrating because people invariably completely fail to see the distinction and often assume i am not only talking about myself, but about them as well. sigh. i suppose it is the curse of the writer to be regarded as a suspicious and perhaps psychotic thief of life experience.

i don't know if it's possible to be liberated from feeling bad about bad reviews inasmuch as it seems so much like bad reviews miss the point. when people report to me that they hate something i wrote or my band's music or whatever, i don't really care (everyone's got different tastes, and can't be expected to like everything -- it doesn't even bother me when my girlfriend doesn't like my stuff). however, the thing that really gets me angry is when people simply refuse to engage with your work or wilfully or meanspiritedly misunderstand or confuse your intentions. so many reviewers refuse to engage with art works on a case-by-case basis, judging them instead by comparisons to other works (often ones with which they share no actual similarities, only ones imagined by the reviewer in his or her most ignorant moments) or judge new work by the standards of past work, which can be very frustrating for the artist who is trying out new things.

anyway, speaking as a Winnipegger who loved the book, i'm sure that a few unkind words from mr walker won't do much to discourage 'peggers from checking it out and drawing their own conclusions.

asthma_boy said...

Hey jonathan,

thanks for your note. your opinion is worth so much more than that walker guy's anyway.

Mingus said...

Obviously, this man has never made sweet love to a Hoover. Perhaps they came before his time. So fuck the WFP. I'm enjoying the book - funny, true, and uniquely structured.

When the Calgary Herald eviscerated my own book, I burned a copy of their paper in a wheat field near Lloydminister. It was cleansing. I suggest you try it.

asthma_boy said...

Thanks!

If only I could take Winnie Freep out to Lloydminster. I'll have to settle for Chicoutimi.

Jonathan Ball said...

thanks jon. i like to think that my opinion is worth at least a bag of chips or a free sandwich.

Jonathan Ball said...

try explaining this to subway though.

Anonymous said...

JP is new the Pope of comic fiction.
Uh, I am not sure who the old one was but J.P. sounds kinda popy.

I loved the book. You must have been beaten by your peers. Alot. But the book is better for your torment. Many thanks for the laughs.

asthma_boy said...

Hi anonymous,

I'm in Cape Cod with my beautiful wife and daughter. I'm a lucky dude. I prefer "comedic fiction" to "comic fiction" because "comic fiction" implies graphic novels.

I'm very glad that you've designated me the new pope though. This gives me special new powers. Pope powers. I will never get beaten again. Unless I want it.

Daniel Sendecki said...

Uh oh, has Jon Paul just declared himself infallible? :)

I saw the white smoke rising from the slope of Mount Royal but being Sunday I thought it was just the tamtams lightin' up.

What would you choose as a papal name -- seeing as you wouldn't want to be living in the shadow of other famous JP Popes.

asthma_boy said...

Hi Daniel,

All this papal talk is making me hungry. I'm in Cape Cod with my wife and daughter. It's the only way to get over a bad review.

Rob Budde said...

Morley Walker has been a lame-duck, drab, and spiritless columnist for decades. He is cultural dead-weight. An enemy of the arts. His hair is bad and he is eminently out of touch with any serious artistic scene. A bad review from him is good news.

asthma_boy said...

well, as long as he has bad hair, i can feel better about all of this.

curious said...

i'm curious, jpf, how many of your rave reviews came from people that you don't know personally? honestly? is this why you don't cite the reviewers on your website, just the mags they publish in? what's a critical consensus worth if it's grown hydroponically?

Daniel Sendecki said...

Are you kidding me?

Well, I for one am not sure who Jon knows or doesn't know, but with a comment like that, Curious, you're not only calling into question JPF's motives, but the credibility of the reviewers contained in the Danforth Review (a fine writer and critic who shall remain nameless; I'll leave it up to anyone interested enough to connect the dots), the Montreal Review of Books, Hour, Now, etc.

Seeing as you're the suspicious type, let it be known that I met Jon briefly (a handshake and a hello) at the Montreal Small Press Book fair in the fall.

What you fail to consider, Curious, is that a few pages into Jon's website, the reviews from which the pulls were born are contained in full, complete with author's name, publication, date, et al. but lacking, much to your chagrin, I imagine, Venn Diagrams or flowcharts revealing the relationships of critic to author.

Were you to make a charge like that against any poet in Canada, your suspicions would likely be raised; the community just ain't that big: all poetry and criticism in Canada is grown hydroponically.

Canada's always been known for the strength of its hydro-grown verse. I suggest sampling the world famous stuff from the Left Coast.

asthma_boy said...

dear curious,

What a mean-spirited question. Although I will answer it. I don't know 7 out of 11 people who have reviewed my book although I have met a few of them briefly. The 4 people I know well who decided to review my book are professionals and I respect their professionalism. If they hated my book they would have written negative reviews.

The names of the reviewers are no secret. They are all over the internet. And a few are on my press page. I'm more interested in why you didn't make YOUR name known.

Anonymous said...

at least you get published, buddy. i'm STILL waiting for my polite rejection letter from yr. post-prairie anthology.

asthma_boy said...

woah! you should probably email me.

jonfiorentino [at] yahoo [dot] ca

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