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June 07, 2005

Women to Sittenfeld: "We Are Not Amused"
(UPDATED w/Jennifer's Stance)

by Ron Hogan

You'll recall that I heard from several women during BookExpo about their frustration with Curtis Sittenfeld's review of Melissa Bank's The Wonder Spot in NYTBR. Now the online reactions are coming in... "What I suspect is that the review is more about Prep than it is about The Wonder Spot," observes Gwenda Bond. "Or at least more about some of the holes Prep got pigeoned into." Robin Epstein, co-author of Shaking Her Assets, feels scorn for Sittenfeld's criticism of the novel as fostering identfication rather than empathy, the way a novel should, an assertion to which Carolyn Kellogg reacts, "Do readers of the NYTBR really need to be told what a good novel should do?" By Tuesday afternoon, Jennifer Weiner had reinforced the suggestion that the review was "less about the book, or its author, than it is about Sittenfeld’s anxiety about how her own work has been perceived." She also gives a line-by-line takedown of the piece that reminds me I really need to start book review reviewing again sometime soon...

Caren Lissner, on the other hand, accentuates the positive, focusing on how The Wonder Spot came across in the review as "entertaining and interesting... [with] a character women can relate to." And Alison Pace wonders, "Why, if Bank's outstanding debut... is largely credited with helping to create the chick-lit genre, is it so suprising, or so wrong, that she wrote chick-lit again?  Why does chick-lit have to be a dirty word?"

Sittenfeld's a onetime contributor to Beatrice, so of course I can't claim total objectivity on the issue. I will say that every time I can recall offhand that a review in the "new NYTBR" seems designed to get itself talked about, the critic usually comes off worse than the book--but, that said, I don't think she emerges from this piece looking as wrongheaded as Neil Gordon on A. L. Kennedy or as dick-like as Joe Queenan on A. J. Jacobs.

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