I believe that most novelists these days–especially those without the support of the establishment publishing industry–look at a “book review” as an opportunity to market their work. And, for those fortunate enough to generate enthusiasm on Amazon and Goodreads and the social media, a gush of posted “reviews” is a mark of success even if the book doesn’t sell very well. In this era of “Everyman” reviews, each one usually comes down to whether or not the reviewer liked the book which, in turn, generally means the reviewer found the story appealing or otherwise. They are the most primitive and profuse form of literary criticism.
Literary criticism is defined by the Internet Public Library as “the evaluation, analysis, description, or interpretation of literary works.” True literary criticism today is virtually non-existent, limited to a few outposts in our so-called cultural meccas where the fine points are debated for the enlightenment of an ever-shrinking fan base. The reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, of course, usually settle for “description” of the book at issue–they rarely even attempt to evaluate, analyze or interpret it.
And that leaves a gap. Because, in addition to selling books, most writers want criticism in the artistic sense. Very few receive it in the form of an essay in The New York Review of Books or The Paris Review. The gap is filled by the book pages in many newspapers, blogs, literary magazines, and journals–like Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus Reviews–created specifically to review books. It is from these sources that many of the legitimate “Editorial Reviews” we see on Amazon come.
All of which is to say that my third novel, The Kingfishers, was recently reviewed in the Myrtle Beach Sun News. The review weighs in at 800 words. It’s not clear whether the reviewer likes the book or not, but he goes beyond the story in his analysis. Much of it is devoted to the psyche of the protagonist, a character to whom I devoted much time and thought: “Grandson of a pilot aboard the Enola Gay, Tommy — post-heartbreak, post-marriage, drowned in alcohol — views society with a melange of disdain, omniscience and gentle self-hating hubris, as if looking down upon the world from the Enola Gay’s nose; his polemics on everything from politics to academia to western medicinal mores and practices, delivered screw-faced with jejune fury, causes him to resemble Holden Caulfield with a political science degree.” Tommy Sawyer is “the appealing Impotent Hero . . . [who] tackles this continent-spanning conspiracy, death all around him, much as we all wish we could . . .”
Well . . . I won’t agree or disagree with the reviewer here, but I’m gratified that he’s made the effort to criticize my book. Characters, and who they really are, matter in my novels, and a review acknowledging that idea is welcome. It validates what I do.