I really feel sorry for any author who has to suffer the indignity of having his or her work reviewed by Michiko Kakutani. I have never known anyone who so consistently proves (over and over and over ad nauseam) that when it comes to writers, and books, and readers, she just does not get it. Of course, I have only myself to blame for the fact that I’m aware of how clueless she is. She’s like those horrible videos that came out right after 9/11. When I see her byline, I know I don’t really want to read what she has to say, that I’m going to be shocked and feel a bit sick, but my eyes wander in her direction anyway, and before I know it, I am yet again, sighing in disgust. I wouldn’t mind so much if I didn’t feel she has the power to do a lot of damage, a power she uses far too irresponsibly. My only hope is that she has more readers like me than readers who actually take her seriously.
Why this rant from me against this NYT reviewer? Because a while ago I finished listening to Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. As I was putting the last disk back into the case, I noted for the first time that the back cover copy had a quote from Kakutani. Here’s what she had to say:
“To give you an idea of what Mark Haddon’s moving new novel is like, think of The Sound and the Fury crossed with The Catcher in the Rye and one of Oliver Sack’s real-life stories.”
Okay, so at least she said it was moving, which must mean she didn’t trash it, which seems to be her favorite thing to do. But how can anyone who has read this book and read any of the others she notes ever trust anything she has to say again? The Sound and the Fury? What? Well, I guess The Sound and the Fury does happen to have an idiot in it, and I suppose some might call Haddon’s protagonist an idiot (more like an idiot savant), but I see no other similarities whatsoever – not in story-line, not in character development, not in type of story (tell me, was there some sort of Southern Gothic piece to Haddon's book that’s somehow gone missing in the unabridged sound recording? Biblical allegory I missed when my mind wandered a bit?), not in writing style. Nothing. And The Catcher in the
How on earth does her editor let her get away with such baloney? I’d be taking her to task all over the place. For me, it’s gotten to the point that if she compares a book to some classic, I know the two will have absolutely nothing in common (of course, I have not yet gotten to the point that it doesn’t annoy the hell out of me). It’s also gotten to the point that if she hates a book, I know that I must immediately put it at the top of my TBR list, most especially if it’s a new book by some beloved author. Did anyone else see the crap she wrote about When You Are Engulfed in Flames? The fact that she could have thought Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim (which has got to be Sedaris’s weakest effort. All my friends who are fellow fans agree with me on that point, although we, of course, still read it and laughed, because, well, it’s Sedaris. He could make a grocery list funny) was better…well, that’s really all the proof you need when it comes to how unreliable she is. She seems to have this odd pattern that has absolutely nothing to do with the actual book. If she praised a bestselling author’s last work, she has to mock his or her latest effort. Does that somehow prove she’s being objective?
All this is to say that I hope none of you aspiring writers out there has ever been discouraged by reading a brilliant book and then reading a Kakutani review of said book. If you found yourself contemplating suicide, because such thoughts as this, “Well, if even that didn’t receive high praise, I’m doomed” keep floating through your head, please come to me. I will tell you exactly how she got it all wrong. Meanwhile, I’m impatiently waiting for you to publish. You can send me ARCs of your books, and I will write reviews here on my blog to put her to shame. And you know what? If you’ve written two (or four or eight…) really good books in a row, I’ll go on and on about how you just can’t seem to fail, you genius, you. And even if I didn’t like your book (hard to imagine, because I love all the blogs kept by those of you who read my blog), I will be far kinder and gentler in my critique of it, because even I, Ms. Blunt-Klutz, have more grace and tact than she does (I’m also aware of the fact that writers are sensitive creatures). Now, get on with your business of writing, and ignore her, please. After all, she can trash John Irving all she wants, but how many 500+ paged novels with that kind of characterization has she written?
And now, despite the fact I wasn't thrilled with the last Diane Johnson book I read (which probably got a rave review from Kakutani), I'm off to see if I can get a copy of her latest book, which Kakutani recently declared as Johnson's "ridiculous new novel." I bet I'm gonna love it!