Saturday, October 13, 2007

What is a Review?

What do I want in a review? I ask this, because I'm so seldom satisfied with the reviews I read. Even those I most admire. Think of John Updike. How effortlessly he weaves his erudition into the exposition, how easily he draws on the breadth of his reading to compliment his judgments--and how generous and broad and well informed his opinions. And yet, they leave me hungry--for what?

I don't like the basic conventions. A review that sketches the plot, scene by scene, from opening to denouement sets my teeth on edge. Not that I'm one who cares about spoilers; I tend to read the last 20 pages or so before I've finished the first 30. The mystery to me is not how it ends, but how the author will tie it all together. How everything in between will stand in relation to how it begins and how it ends.

I can't think of an example of the kind of review I would like to read.

I mentioned that to a friend. She said, isn't that why people write novels? Or anything?

"If you can't find the book you most want to read, you write it yourself. If you want to read a different sort of review--write it yourself!"

I find the idea of writing a review more challenging, triggers more anxiety... than writing a novel. I can hide my most vulnerable opinions, my judgments, mask them in endless aesthetic indirections. But a review exposes you in a way a novel or poem or story doesn't.

Or exposes a different part...

Is it then, that in thinking about writing a review, I want to find a new form... or is it that I want to find a new form to protect myself from exposure to a type of judgement I'm not prepared to accept?

Some of both, I think. What way to find out, but to do it?

With all its indirection, my non-review of Sherman Alexie's, Flights, was an experiment in the direction I'd like to go. I was anxious after posting that. I wanted to delete it... but there was something in it, even in its failure, that I knew I had to listen to, to learn from.

This morning, I finished Junot Diaz' The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I don't know whether I can do it... but I know I want to. To write something of the kind I'd like to read myself.

"I met something, Bella would say, guardedly." The adverb names it for us, with casual indirection. The Mongoose, the guardian who comes to us in need, and cannot help us in the end.

Or does it?

Why does this... why did this book make me think of Plato's Gorgias?

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