Thursday, July 09, 2009

Not Up to One's Former Standard

by Barbara D'Amato


My husband, Tony D’Amato, read my post [June 25] about critics, fair and unfair, but thought I’d left something out, something critics sometimes do.

Tony says:

I always read The Outfit to find out what my wife Barbara D’Amato is thinking about. Her most recent blog was about critics. What she didn’t mention was her own dispatch of a pompous reviewer in her short story “Of Course You Know that Chocolate is a Vegetable.”

The critic takes asthma medicine, theophylline, that is chemically very similar to the caffeine and theobromine in coffee and chocolate—dangerous in large quantities. At this point, at the urging of the victim of his critiques, he has eaten several chocolate desserts and drunk several espressos.

An excerpt:

We were seated at a round table covered with a crisp white cloth at Just Desserts, a scrumptious eatery in central Manhattan that specializes in chocolate desserts.
“I must say, Ms. Grenfield, it’s very handsome of you to invite me after my review of your last book, “ Ivor Sutcliffe said.
Ivor’s review had begun:

In Snuffed, the victim, Rufus Crown, is dispatched with a gaseous fire extinguisher designed for use on fires in rooms with computer equipment and other such unpleasant hardware, though neither the reader nor the fictional detective knows this at the start when his dead but mysteriously unblemished body is found. The reader is treated to long efforts—quite incompatible with character development—on the part of the lab and medical examiner to establish what killed him.

Sutcliffe’s review had gone on:

I deplore the substitution of technical detail for real plotting. One could amplify the question “Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?” by asking “Who cares how Roger Ackroyd was killed?” No one cares what crime labs and pathologists really do.
Since he was eating at my expense, he found the need to be borderline pleasant. “You know, I did say in the review that I liked much of your past work.”
Actually no, you clot. His review of my first book, graven on my heart, said, “This novel is obviously the work of a beginner.” And his review of my second book, also etched somewhere in my guts, said “Ms. Grenfield has not yet got her sea legs for the mystery genre.” The third and most recent review had, in fact, damned with faint praise: This effort, Snuffed, is not up to her former standard.”
As he finished off the tray of chocolate candies, he said “These are good. I’m rather surprised.”
“Why?”
He said, “I’d always thought of you as lacking in appreciation of the finer things.”
“Oh, surely not.”
“All those bloody and explicit murders, or poisons with their effects lovingly detailed. Hardly the work of a subtle mind.”
“Au contraire, Ivor, I am very subtle.”
“Well, I suppose it does require a certain amount of delicacy to keep the knowledge of whodunit from a reader until the end.” He fidgeted as if nervous. He started to sweat.
“Yes. Until the end.”

23 comments:

Julia Buckley said...

Great fun! There's nothing more cruel than a mean review.

Sara Paretsky said...

Usually bad reviews hurt my feelings for days and days, but Time Out said of one of my books, "It's time for Paretsky to take Warshawski to a retirement home for deranged feminists." Something about that appealed to me--a place where deranged feminists could get a little r & r--I pictured Veuve Clicquot flowing from the taps, massages, spacious lawns, tasty picnics. My husband called the place "Gelding Manor" and Nicole Hollander drew a lovely picture of it.

Barbara D'Amato said...

Julia and Sara--thank you. It's wonderful when bad reviews can be seen as funny. I'm still laughing about the one that didn't like a friend's book because the paper was too thick!

Betty Nicholas said...

Heads up! Barb's short story "Of Course You Know Chocolate is a Vegetable" which Tony quotes won 3 Best Short Story Awards in 1999 -The Agatha, Anthony and Macavity.
This suggests a wide wave of support for the "victim author".

Barbara D'Amato said...

Gee, Betty, thanks!

RaB said...

Great addendum and comments to the thread about critics! And Sara... I can't wait to number among the deranged feminist retirees at Gelding Manor.

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