So this is why God created the ellipsis...

By and large, reviewers have been good to me. I've been compared to Molly Ivins, Anna Quindlen, and Larry McMurtry. My memoir about my chemo experience was haled with every possible synonym for life-affirming, including "transcendent", "transformational", and--my personal fave--"upliftinglicious". I've even been called "brilliant", which just makes my kids laugh out loud. Glowing praise is good for book sales. But on a personal level, it's a tar pit. If a writer buys into blather about her book being "an astonishing literary feat," she is bound to be sucked under and paralyzed by comments like "it's a slog." I've also been called "the possibly talented Joni Rodgers" and "midlist wannabe Joni Rodgers", which also made my kids laugh out loud.

Last year, when my novel, The Secret Sisters came out, it got a serious deep-frying from Kirkus. At first, my editor refused to show me the review.

"It's stinky," she said.

Turns out this description of their review was kinder than their review of my book. I offer it here as a public service. Please, enjoy a moment of Schadenfreude -- on me!
A drunk-driving accident has dire ramifications for a tight-knit family. Rodgers's third novel (Bald in the Land of Big Hair, 2001, etc.) is told in alternating chapters from the points of view of sisters Pia and Lily and their sister-in-law Beth. All three are self-centered and savor wallowing in grief. Despite the gut-wrenching losses they suffer, these women remain remarkably shallow and unenlightened. Pia's husband collapses and dies in the novel's first few pages. She remarries out of desperation and proceeds to have a nervous breakdown that's recounted in cliched metaphors. Lily rivals her sister when it comes to doling out self-pity. Serving out a seven-year prison sentence for killing her five-year-old niece in a drunken driving accident, she is bitter, foul-mouthed and reckless. Although Lily wrestles with the shame of her conviction, she is never repentant, and, aside from a few humorously caustic jabs at her prison mates, remains fairly intolerable. Finally, there is Beth, the dependable, sanctimonious, holy-roller of the family. Beth lost her daughter in the car accident and is harboring some severe hatred toward her in-laws. Her pent-up righteousness is dull. It's a slog following these three women through so many pages of depressing action before the slightest bit of sunshine is revealed in an ending that's neither satisfying nor shocking.

What's a working girl to do? This calls for (dun-da-da-DUHN!) Ellipsis Woman! Wielding the dot-dot-dot like Wonder Woman wields her lasso of truth, authors and our trusty PR sidekicks are able to transform "an astonishing pile of crap" into a blurbilicious "...astonishing..." As I puzzled over how to squeeze even three consecutive kind words out of the Kirkus bludgeoning, my son Spike offered these ellipsis-whipped pull quotes:

"A drunk-driving...gut-wrenching...Rodgers...rivals her sister when it comes to...killing...five-year-old...prison inmates."


"Rodgers' the novel's first few pages...and...proceeds to have...a nervous breakdown."

Getting smoked by a book reviewer is like getting up in the middle of the night to use the facilities and seeing a roach by the toilet. Your initial reaction: HORROR! Followed by a brief spike of irritation, and then the realization that you have two choices. A) Debase yourself in order to pursue and destroy the critter as he skitters out of sight. Or B) drop your jammies, shoot him the full moon, and go on about your business.

Update Dec 2009: Read my rant about the demise of Kirkus.


TJ Bennett said…
Ouch. I live in fear of my first bad review. Of course, I should be used to it. I was a contest diva, and I got some doozies even then. And don't get me started on my rejection letters...ugh.

BTW, I've tagged you and Colleen for the 8 Little Things game that's going around. Check out my blog for my eight, then write 8 little known facts about yourself on yours. I know, I know, but I don't really read that many blogs other than you ladies,'re it. :-)

LOL, Joni! Clearly, the Kirkus reviewer didn't read the same book that I did!

I love your metaphor regarding the roach by the toilet. I've had my share of those in my writing career. The trouble is, those are the only ones I seem to *remember*. The great reviews, which are much more frequent, are all too easily dismissed. What the heck is up with that?

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