Acclaimed novelist Alice Hoffman was called out on Gawker today for her angry twitter responses to a partially negative review of her latest novel, The Story Sisters, by Roberta Silman in The Boston Globe, Hoffman's hometown newspaper.
Hoffman called the reviewer a "moron" and gave out her phone number. "Now any idiot can be a critic," Hoffman wrote. "Writers used to review writers. My second novel was reviewed by [Anne ] Tyler. So who is Roberta Silman?" Hoffman quickly apologized, but not before the story had spread across the blogosphere. Even the Christian Science Monitor weighed in, along with New York Magazine and Entertainment Weekly.
The Boston Globe responded that Silman is, in fact, an established writer, having published a short story collection and three novels. Her website lists her books, which received favorable (even starred) reviews from respected journals like Booklist and Kirkus.
While I don't condone Hoffman's methods, I do see how she might have gotten carried away. Almost any writer or artist will understand the impulse to lash out, if not the follow-through. I wasn't too happy when one reviewer (a graduate student hired by my hometown newspaper) wrote a mostly unfavorable review of my latest novel. It's never pleasant to have one's novel trashed, especially at home. If you're lucky, the review will contain major factual errors, and you can take comfort in knowing that the reviewer might not have read the book all that carefully. For example, a good chunk of the review in question was a criticism of my portrayal of the Dominican Republic. Now, if the book had been set in the Dominican Republic,that might have made sense. While the Dominican Republic was never even referred to in my novel, it was mentioned no fewer than three times in the review, as in "she renders the Dominican Republic as a prelapsarian paradise." Well. I just don't know. What can you say to that?
As an author, you get used to this sort of thing. As in any other profession, you take the good with the bad. You understand that, sometimes, the reviewer realizes the night before deadline that she hasn't read the book, and she has to produce 750 words. Sometimes, the reviewer is someone you met at a party, who, for one reason or another, didn't like your personality or your choice of gin or your general aura, or what you wrote on a story written by one of her friends in a workshop you were teaching. Sometimes, the reviewer is only being paid a hundred bucks for the review anyway, and has other things on his mind. Sometimes the reviewer is brilliant, and has figured out something about your book that you wish you had figured out first. Sometimes, you even find yourself secretly nodding along with the reviewer, thinking, ah, well, I guess she has a point. And you are grateful for the attention, even if you don't like the review itself, because there are so many books, and readers have so many choices, and the fact that someone is reading your book and writing about it in a public forum is a good thing. As in every other profession, you do not tweet about the people who've made you mad. Possibly, more than a year later, you mention the review in a blog post, but even so, you do not give out the reviewer's phone number. Although, if you had the phone number, it sure would be tempting.
I guess we all know that now, and the rest of us are lucky that someone else tweeted first.