Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Reviewing a Review

Over a month ago, a short story I wrote called “My Brother Picks Cans” was published in an online literary journal called JMWW. I’ve been working on this story for a while now—and by “a while,” I mean seventeen years (no kidding: the initial idea for the story started sprouting in Summer 1991)—so, yeah, I was kind of excited that someone finally decided to publish the darn thing.

Funny thing about getting things published: someone else might actually read it. Last week, I found a review of my story, on a blog called, conveniently enough, “Short Story Reader” (which you can find at http://shortstoryreader.blogspot.com/.) I thought I would do a review of the review.

Incidentally, if you would like to read the story—which is about brothers, nickel deposits, and Roger Maris--you can check it out at http://jmww.150m.com/Dursin.html. (Yes! Score with the brilliantly subtle plug!)

Before I review the review, I should mention that the writer behind “Short Story Reader” (who lists his occupation as “editor” in his profile) describes his blog as one “about good stories on the Web,” which I took as a good sign. (Not such a good sign if his blog was for “the most crap-tastic fiction on the Web.") On an unrelated but nevertheless fascinating note: Short Story Reader Man seems to maintain another blog called “My Week in Hair,” which he apparently writes under the pseudonym “Big Hair.” (“Each week,” promises the blogger, “Big Hair answers your hair questions and shares an incident involving his hair, your hair, or the hair of the person next to you.”)

In any case, Short Story Reader Man starts off the review with the following:

“Okay, so let's talk about story subgenres. You know, like stories about marriages going bad, stories about moms dying, stories about first times. This is a brother story. And I think I'm probably a sucker for such pieces. I'm remembering a story in Marshall Boswell's The Trouble with Girls and another story in Ryan Harty's Tell Me Your Saddest Arizona. Brother stories, and I liked both--in fact, thought that in each case the story was one of the best in the collection. And here's another good brother story. This doesn't quite match the level of Boswell or Harty, but it's well done.”

OK, so I’m not Boswell or Harty, whoever they are. But at least I can be mentioned in the same paragraph as them, right? And, hey, he still described the story as “good” and “well done.” I’ll take it. Let’s move on.

“Maybe I just wish I had a brother or wish I had a sibling who was closer to me. Or maybe such stories remind me of being young. I don't know. What I do know is how Dursin managed to get me interested in his story before any of the other stories in the latest JMWW.”

This section kind of bummed me out, to be honest-- not personally, but for Short Story Reader Man. What happened between him and his sibling? (And did their falling out in any way involve hair?) Come on, guys—work it out!

I guess the “Dursin managed to get me interested in his story before any of the other stories in the latest JMWW” is a compliment…. Unless, of course, he hated everything else in the issue. Then it’s like Simon Cowell saying to Amanda Overmeyer, “Well, that performance was certainly better than last week’s… which was absolutely horrific!” (Master of “damning with faint praise,” that bloke.)

Moving on with the review...

“It was a series of declarative sentences, fairly simple. No sparks, no odd phrases that made me think, what's up? Or maybe the opening did make me think, what's up. What's up with picking cans and why is that so important that people would notice? The story goes from there, giving readers a pretty good entry into the life of these two brothers.”

I get what he’s saying here. It’s true: I do write fairly simple sentences. Personally, I think unless you’re F. Scott Fitzgerald or Toni Morrison, you should avoid the needlessly long, expansive sentences that roll out before the reader like a vast and embattled ocean, racing in reverse past the very brink of eternity. But that’s just me.

“This isn't a story that's going to knock your socks off or anything, but it is nice, and it sounds, for the most part, 'real'-- you know, genuine. And sometimes, that's better than all the pyrotechnics a writer might be able to muster. You can read the story for yourself here.”

Well, sort of a Cowell-esque way to end it there, with the one-two punch of "not going to knock your socks off" followed by the crushing “nice” comment. I mean, "nice"? Who wants anything you wrote to be caleld "nice"? Can we go back to the beginning, when you called it “good” and “well done”?

On the plus side, he did say it was “real” and “genuine,” which is something all writers (who aren’t going for fantasy) want to achieve.

In the end, I thought my first review was a positive one. Short Story Reader obviously thought the story was worthy enough to include on his blog, and in the end, he gave “My Brother Picks Cans” three stars (hopefully out of four and not four hundred). I think I’ll give the same to his review. (He was this close to getting four stars… but then the “nice” comment…)


Crow said...

As the brother in said story, I'll be waiting for my royalty check in the mail. Jokes aside, I really enjoyed that story (even 17 eyars later.) Your revisions are excellent. Your students would be proud.

Anonymous said...

On the plus side, he did say it was “real” and “genuine,” which is something all writers (who aren’t going for fantasy) want to achieve.

What are you nuts? When you're going for fantasy "real" and "genuine" are even more important!

Congrats on getting the story published

Short Story Reader said...

jczorkmid hit on the point I was trying to make in my review--namely that the story's power sneaks up on readers, rather than being in one's face, and this in large part because your story rings true. There are no gimmicks here--just good, subtle writing. Thanks for reading about my reading.