shaken & stirred

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Curtis, Curtis, Curtis... surely after selling all those copies you can afford therapy?*

There are so many things that bug me about this off-base evisceration that I hardly know where to start. Let's start with the term "chick lit," which seems as much an invented marketing category designed to pigeonhole books about young women as anything else. (And which seems to engender scorn primarily because it actually works, the books sell--you can't tell me the attitude is about the quality of the books; like any category there will be excellence and there will be excrement.) Then there's her out of hand dismissal of anything that's in the category of chick lit. As if calling something chick lit is in itself a qualitative judgment. Wake up and smell the hundred-year-old stink on that kind of generalization. (And you see this elsewhere too, mostly from other women writers. Stop attacking each other!)

Without having read Sittenfeld's book Prep--but having seen plenty of reactions to it (from readers and critics) and having seen its disturbing cover with the green and pink pastels--what I suspect is that the review is more about Prep than it is about The Wonder Spot. Or at least more about some of the holes Prep got pigeoned into. I believe it was treated even by those who liked it as a slight sort of novel, dishy, insubstantial, scandalously autobiographical. Sound familiar? Baggage, with a capital B.

And, as Sarah pointed out, all the more ironic for Bank's nice comments about Sittenfeld in this week's EW. Not to mention the fact that these are both young women who hit it big right out of the park and went through the flack that comes with that.

I'm about halfway through The Wonder Spot, which I picked up at the library on a whim, and it's still surprising me. Bank has a distinct authorial voice that's pleasant and funny and natural. She can really turn a phrase or capture a small moment and make it into something bigger. And of the main character Sophie's relationships so far, those with her family--especially her brothers--are way more important than the ones she has with the men she dates. Perhaps it will all fall apart in the second half, but I'm doubtful of that. It seems to me that Sittenfeld, taking careful notes while reading or not, has missed a giant swathe of what the book is about both on the surface and beneath it.

Anyway, it seems apropos to quote Christian Bauman's wonderful essay (the one I linked to the other day from the excellent Bookmark Now):
And although this wasn’t their point, it bothers me, yes it does, let me say here: writing is the only art form where a good number of the artists make a slice of their living criticizing one another in print, in public. Worse, some don’t even make their living at it, some do it free of charge.

Actors don’t do this. Painters don’t do it, musicians don’t. It’s weird, it’s cannibalism.

* Here's the snarkback: Or at least get a new head shot.**
** Really, I feel bad about it, I do.


  • At 1:21 AM , Blogger genevieve said...

    Why is it worse to do it for nothing, though - I think the reverse is the case to be perfectly honest.
    I'm not convinced that the other practitioners of 'art' don't criticise each other, either. Might post on this, thanks for quoting it, it is a good looking piece - I'm going to read it on the train tomorrow.

  • At 9:34 AM , Anonymous eek said...

    I read the review and I was also disturbed by CS's invocation of the Chick Lit Curse. I also wonder about the stupid sensationalism of assigning this review to Sittenfeld, and the Times has does this kind of stunt-reviewing before (review by the competition). Frankly, I'd trust a review written by just about anyone *but* another young female first-slight-novel-with-female-protagonist. Call me cynical.

    On other art forms and criticism, it is kind of peculiar to writing that often the critics are practicing writers themselves, therefore, in many instances, the competition. You don't see Catherine Zeta-Jones giving two authoritative thumbs up to the new Penelope Cruz movie. I'd wager that most dance critics are at least retired dancers/choreographers. And we all know about music reviewers.

    Though some literary critics are solely academics and critics, many are also practicing poets and fiction writers. Which has a tendency to turn reviews written about their peers into either blurbfests or dismissive "oh I just TRIED to like it!" disengenuous smears.

  • At 1:40 PM , Anonymous Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

    I had some coice words to say in a letter to the NYTBR following the CS snarkfest. Somehow, I doubt they'll run it, but it closed with, "Shame on Curtis Sittenfeld for having such a poor understanding of what chick-lit is and what it is not and shame on you for revealing your misogyny once again by assigning a worthy book for review to a neo-writer who has yet to prove she has any critical chops." Take that, Sam!

  • At 3:59 PM , Blogger amanda m. said...

    In nursing, we have a term for it, "Eating our young" Nurses eat their young. And these kinds of reviews, by jealous people who have yet to make their own mark, are doing exactly that themselves.
    Additionally, I agree with you, in general, as I have found that women are more willing to turn on each other than to go after the true source of whatever ill in plaguing them.
    It's a shame.


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