I spent a few years teaching literature; one thing that always fascinated me were the critics who frequently saw certain themes, symbols, and elements in fictional works that I’m positive were never intended by their authors. They evaluated these novels and short stories based on what they thought the authors should have written. One priceless example of this type of analysis is Hemingway’s “A Clean Well Lighted Place.” There’s a page of text that doesn’t seem to make sense. Critics came up with all kinds of bizarre interpretations. Hemingway couldn’t answer the question because he already had blown off his head. Finally a scholar discovered that two lines had been copied in the wrong order when the story was first published. Case solved.
I was thinking of this situation as early reviews come pouring in for Silent Partner. I have to say I’m pleased because almost all reviews rate the book four or five stars. There are a few reviewers, though, who had some very strange ideas of their own. If I could meet for drinks with them, I imagine some of the conversation would go as follows
Schatt: I see you’ve tentatively given the book one star, but there’s no review. What didn’t you like?
Reviewer 1: No. I give all the books on my TBR shelf one star ratings until I read them. I then adjust my rating when I write a review.
Schatt: Aren’t you concerned that giving a book you haven’t read a one star rating might influence others who will decide not to read it?
Reviewer 1: That’s not my concern. It helps me keep track of the books I intend to read next. Besides, Goodreads is for readers and not for writers, so don’t bother me.
Schatt: Nice to meet you in person, Reviewer 2. So, I see you gave the book 3.5 stars. I’m not sure I understand what you didn’t like.
Reviewer 2: I liked it a lot and thought the writing was good. I just didn’t like that you didn’t write a paranormal romance.
Schatt: Did I promise you a paranormal romance? I think the book’s cover describes it as a paranormal mystery.
Reviewer 2: Well, I thought it was supposed to a paranormal romance. I don’t like paranormal police procedure books, so I always give them low grades.
Schatt: When you put down your drink, could you tell me what aspect of the book you didn’t like?
Reviewer 3: I think you’re trying to imitate 50 Shades. Your book is not as sexy.
Schatt: But…the whole point was to add some comic value to Josh and Frankie’s undercover work at the S&M club. There really isn’t anything erotic in the book.”
Reviewer 3: That’s my point! You didn’t make the book erotic enough.
Schatt: But… I wasn’t trying to make it erotic.
The more I read reviews, the more I think of the blind men’s wildly differing descriptions of an elephant based on what part of the animal they felt. All reviews have value, but some reviews remind me of a line from A Farewell to Arms where Lieutenant Henry thinks about how unfair life is:
“You did not know what it was about. You never had time to learn. They threw you in and told you the rules and the first time they caught you off base they killed you.”