Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Alice Hoffman Freaks Out, and Plus Her Book is Bad

Yesterday, angry author Alice Hoffman used Twitter to publish a reviewer's phone number and (misspelled) email address. She encouraged her followers to "tell [the reviewer] off," after reviewer Roberta Silman published a lukewarm review of Hoffman's most recent book, The Story Sisters, in the Boston Globe. Instructing followers to "Tell her what u think of snarky critics," Hoffman caused eyebrows around the twitterverse to raise a few languid millimeters, as the book world vaguely pondered whether reviewers should really be punished for saying what they think.

Their conclusion: No, they should not. After receiving some flack for her tweet, Hoffman tried to turn this tantrum into a principled stance, saying, "Girls are taught to be gracious and keep their mouths shut. We don't have to. And we writers don't have to say nothing when someone tries to destroy us." Uh, yeah.

In an incredibly synchronous coincidence, I just yesterday finished reading Alice Hoffman's novel Here on Earth. Do I dare tell you exactly how I feel about this book? Will my phone number be posted on Twitter tomorrow, beside an impassioned call to action?

I did not like Here on Earth. I only picked it up because my brain somehow crossed wires and I thought I was picking up an Angela Carter book. Carter wrote The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman. She is not, as I now know, related in any way to Alice Hoffman. I had never read Alice Hoffman before.

Here on Earth is a romance novel dressed up as literary chick-lit. Its central character is an unlikeable woman whose choices are dense and reprehensible, and whose family and friends are only slightly less loathsome. Switching through point-of-view characters with irritating frequency and loping along in an uncomfortable present tense, the book spirals outward away from an increasingly irrational and self-destructive heroine as if the plot is mirroring the reader's desire to get out of her unsavory story. Several times in the book, young characters are told that they just don't know anything about love. Maybe my failure to connect with this novel is a result of a similar misunderstanding.

Or maybe it's because of lines like this: "He can spend hours watching a wounded cedar beetle and weep over its rare beauty, as well as its agony." Or this: "He knows what can happen to any man who won't let go of his pain." These lines were written without sarcasm about two different male characters, and they're not even the ones we're *supposed* to hate! Maybe it's because of the close attention paid to sweaters and cookies. Ultimately, though, I didn't buy the violence, the pain, the delusions, or even the love.

The Boston Globe said about Here on Earth: "A sound addition to an impressive body of work." I wonder if that reviewer would have been called out on Twitter, had it been around back in 1997 when Here on Earth was published? Because all that reviewer really said was, "Alice Hoffman has written another of many books." And sometimes, if you're trying to be nice, that's all you can really say.

UPDATE: Alice Hoffman's twitter account is no longer. However, Gawker has screen caps.

Here's a list of the people I referenced in the article if you want to follow them on Twitter:

Alice Hoffman @alicehof (deleted? suspended? torn down in a fit of rage?)

Ron Charles, Washington Post Writer: @roncharles

Islinda, outraged fan: @darkonfire

Thanks to Maud Newton who retweeted it: @maudnewton

Thanks to Susannah Breslin who sent it to me: @reversecowpie

And this is me: @lostcheerio


  1. I've read a handful of Alice Hoffman's books; some I liked, some I didn't. Local Girls was by far my favorite and if you ever want to give her another try, I'd recommend that. She did seem overly angry about a review that seemed pretty honest to me; that's just my two cents. Hoffman did write the screenplay for Independence Day (one of my favorite movies) so I think I'll cut her a break.

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