The Anti-Review

Tom Gauld Art

It’s a rut.  It stinks of cabbage and too many adverbs.  The adverbs are willy-nilly running around with their descriptions turned off, not stopping for stop signs, but dotted at the end so we readers know just how that character said that phrase.  It’s sad.  It makes my eyes hurt.  My makeup is bruising the coat of my lid.  I remember saying specifically that I can deal with a story that doesn’t have a plot if the writing is pretty, well, I think that was a lie.  I’m reeling lower and lower into that tunnel, but there is not a delicate glass jar at the bottom that asks politely for me to “Drink Me.”  There will not be a speaking doorknob, just sadness at the pure fact that I’ve spent four months unable to finish more than three books.

In fact, rut is too small of a word.  This is a 5k of wasted printed words.  I’m not sure who I’m more disappointed in, myself for trying to read seven books and not finishing one, or the authors for not making any of these books “riveting” enough for me to actually finish.  People, I always finish books.  I can’t help myself.  I read Bastard Out of Carolina to the very last drop of throbbing sadness.  That book is like an abusive Ben Stiller movie where everything shitty just keeps happening to the main character and then at the end, what happens, oh, she’s ultimately left in a pile of her own shit.  Yep, there’s a summation in case you were thinking about reading that one because you’re a resident of Carolina, or you hear that it’s a great coming-of-age story.  For the latter versions of you, just read Jane Eyre and call it a day.

Adverb Problems

See the following for books I’ve tried to finish in the last month:

  1. Bigfoot Dreams – Francine Prose
  2. The Best Short Stories of 2013 – Elizabeth Stout, Guest Editor
  3. Under the Wide And Starry Sky – Nancy Horan
  4. Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls – Alissa Nutting
  5. Quiet Dell – Jayne Anne Phillips

Two of these authors I proclaim as in my top five favorite authors of all time: Francine Prose and Jayne Anne Phillips.  Francine Prose has written some of my favorite short stories as well as some of my favorite novels.  Jayne Anne Phillips wrote Lark and Termite which is one of my favorites, if not favorite book of all time, only behind The BFG.  Nancy Horan wrote Loving Frank which was loved by critics both on Goodreads and in important newspapers like The New York Times and the LA Review of Books.  I always read The Best American Short Stories because I feel like my true writing calling is in short fiction and one day young twenty-somethings will be tweeting at me like I have tweeted at Mayghan Mayhew Bergman probably to the point of creepy.   So far, only one story has lived up to my idea of “Best American Short Stories” and I think my eye for short fiction is even stronger than last year as I’m taking American Literature with the hardest teacher I have ever had, this semester.  I know good American fiction when I see it.

The Best American Short Stories 2013

The only story in this Best Of collection that has reached the brim of my emotion is “Magic Man” by Sheila Kohler.   It was first published in the Yale Review which feels too academic from where I’m sitting.   This story disturbed me to the point that I didn’t know where to put my hands while I read.  Do I hide the right one between the furrow of my thighs and the left just below the pucker of my butt.  I’m not sure.  Then I thought they were too close to something and had to move them, had to rub my fingers together like a worried father about to have a birds and bees conversation.  Had to get clammy and wipe them on my jeans.  My feet crossed, uncrossed.  My hair went up, pulled down, pony tail holder on my wrist, wrapped twice and knotted around my finger, in my hair’s messy bun.  It was that uncomfortable to read. Other stories in the collection are good, “Bravery” by Charles Baxter (first published in Tin House) stands out as one that I left a lot of highlights.  Who can go wrong with Charles Baxter though.  He’s an author that can be read physically or listened to on a road trip and both are electrifying in their trueness.  Just think about these first few highlights:

“As a teenager, her junior year, her favorite trick involved riding in cars with at least two other girls.  You needed a female cluster in there, and you needed to have the plainest one driving.”

“Your voice.  Wow.  I was undone,’ he said, taking a sip of the church-basement coffee, his voice thick.  Undone.  He had a collection of unusual adjectives like that.  He had a collection of them.  Devoted was another.  And committed.  He used that adjective all the time.  Never before had she ever met a man who was comfortable with that adjective.”

I’m a sucker for when authors use words and their finagling to describe a person.  It’s delicious in the best adjective form of the word.   “Malaria” by Michael Byers (originally from Bellevue Literary Review) got me thinking, but didn’t stand out as a spectacular short story for me.  I thought about it long after I read it, it rang like a bell in a church tower, but it was the idea that I thought about and the worry rather than the actual writing.  Usually, I can tell a good short story when I have to ask myself why an author wrote it just that way, or how the author got away with a certain thing.  In this situation, I wondered if there are signals for the things that people will do in the future and if we notice the signals, we have the power to change the future.  I don’t mean signals that someone is going to commit a murder, but signals that something could go wrong, someone could unwind, someone could be spun, wildly, for nothing.  (Too many adverbs in one setting, sorry not sorry).

Moving on.

Charming Book So Far

I think I can’t finish Bigfoot Dreams because it isn’t a story.  It’s about a woman who writes fake stories for a newspaper (she was hired to do this) and come to find out one of her stories is exactly true (well not the fantasy part, but the people involved and where they are and what they do).  There’s not enough yearning in that conflict for me to want to read to find out what exactly happened that she could just pull these exact names out of the thin blue air.  I don’t even really like any of the other characters, but Vera.  It just seems like a pointless story and I know, I KNOW,  it’s trying to say something, but I just can’t figure out what, and I’m not sure that I really care.

I will probably finish Quiet Dell only because there can’t be a book by Jayne Anne Phillips that I haven’t read.  That would destroy my idea of myself as a professional reader.  I will also probably finish under The Wide And Starry Sky because at least I like those characters a little, they’re charming.  It’s obnoxiously long for the point of it, but charm goes a long way.  Sell yourself, then sell your product.  I will also probably finish the Best Of because I know there’s one or two toxic stories in there that I will be glad I have read by the time it’s over.

If I don’t finish any of these, consider this the anti-review.

14 thoughts on “The Anti-Review

  1. Elisa says:


    I get periods where I grab new things, because I am done reading what I think that I like and it’s time for more. This doesn’t mean the books like me. My not liking a book doesn’t make it bad. Books are like lovers. There are all sorts and I do not have to stay with one… :P

    I have this thing with finishing a book too. I have been breaking it. I have been practicing by grabbing books that I do not think that I will like, reading a chapter or two…noting the ewwwwwwww you were right feeling–moving to chapter seven and then nodding to myself about my rightness (or wrongness) and I haven’t even wasted eons of my time. I haven’t had to miss other books!! Other times, I just don’t want to read. Other times I want non-fiction. shrugs…If doing what I like becomes a chore….EWWWWWWWW!!

    • Cassie says:

      See I always feel like there will be something of note by the time it ends that I need to see, but lately everything I pick up has been “ewwww” no matter what genre. Yuck! Thanks for the advice love. I may try that skip to chapter seven thing for a few of these.

  2. Amanda says:

    I’ve been in a literary fiction slump for most of the year. I absolutely loathed ASA Harrison’s The Silent Wife while everyone else raved about it. The Affairs of Others tried to do too many things and failed at all of them. There have been a number of other literary books that I managed to finish that didn’t make me want to claw my eyes out at the end because I was so bored, but I wouldn’t exactly call them good, either.

    This time last year, I’d read oh, ten? Ten literary fiction books that blew me away. This year? I can count the number of books on one hand that did that: three. And one of them I’m not entirely certain you’d call a work of literary fiction.

  3. whisperinggums says:

    I can’t cure or answer your slump, but I did love reading your post, anti-review or not. You have a great way with words. Sometimes we read too much I think and everything starts feeling the same-old same-old. It will pass, I’m sure.

  4. Let's CUT the Crap! says:

    I used to plow my way through a book because I felt I owed it to the writer. Then I read looking for some small saving grace. After about three strikes out, I’d pass the book along to anyone who would take it.

    Why are we, as readers, becoming so judgemental? ;-)

  5. bea says:

    You better just snap out of it! Make it your life’s mission, or at least this month’s mission to find THAT BOOK! You know the one, it makes your hands sweat and your hair curl, or straighten in your case. Now get out there, and get it done! I just love exclamation points!


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