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Alice Hoffman strikes back -- and strikes out

On Sunday, Alice Hoffman tweeted her unhappiness over a review of her latest novel, "The Story Sisters." The Boston Globe ran the review, by author Roberta Silman. Some of Hoffman's complaints seemed valid -- she thought that too much of the plot had been given away.

But the vitriol Hoffman used to express her dissatisfaction was extreme. "Roberta Silman in the Boston Globe is a moron," one tweet began. "Now any idiot can be a critic," stated another. 

At first, Hoffman defended her right to express herself any way she wanted. "Girls are taught to be gracious and keep their mouths shut. We don't have to," she wrote, and then continued a minute later: "And we writers don't have to say nothing when someone tries to destroy us."

That's not all: Hoffman tweeted Silman's phone number and e-mail address, encouraging readers to "Tell her what u think of snarky critics." 

The move from defense to offense served no one, especially not Hoffman, who instead of being wronged by a poor review comes off like an aspiring literary gang leader, dispensing orders 140 characters at a time. 

Silman hadn't been deluged by phone calls, she explained to Jacket Copy, because Hoffman got her number wrong. Silman, who isn't on Twitter and had been off in the Berkshires, didn't hear anything of Hoffman's reaction until around 11:30 a.m. EDT Monday, when a friend called.

"Aside from your email there have been nine emails to me, all in support of my review and/or my right to review and all apologizing for Alice Hoffman's perplexing behavior," she wrote to Jacket Copy in an e-mail. "I wouldn't change anything about my review. I have written many reviews for The Globe and say what I believe, and, in this case, I praised her earlier work, which was clearly better. I'm sorry Alice could not take pride in the good things I said, and perhaps mull a little on the criticism. That is what I have always tried to do when professional people have criticized my work."

If Silman takes a look at Twitter, she won't be able to read Alice Hoffman's messages, because today her Twitter account (@AliceHof) disappeared, although some bits are available through Mediabistro and Gawker. What Hoffman has to say now has been limited to a formal statement.

What this has to do with Alain de Botton ... after the jump.

Alice Hoffman's statement, which was conveyed by her publicist, Camille McDuffie at Goldberg McDuffie Communications, reads:

I feel this whole situation has been completely blown out of proportion. Of course I was dismayed by Roberta Silman's review which gave away the plot of the novel, and in the heat of the moment I responded strongly and I wish I hadn't. I'm sorry if I offended anyone. Reviewers are entitled to their opinions and that's the name of the game in publishing. I hope my readers understand that I didn't mean to hurt anyone and I'm truly sorry if I did.

Alice Hoffman

It's too bad that the strength of Hoffman's response has overshadowed her complaints. Silman's opening  -- "As the eldest of three sisters, I am always interested in books about sisters," -- reads more like a book report than the thoughts of a seasoned reviewer. And the review's prose plods.

But the issue here has turned from the original criticism to the way that critique was leveled. Those Who Love Snark can't resist a bit of mud-slinging. But does our attention put too bright a glare on an author who is angry? Can writers vent their anger online? Is that a good idea?

Looks like Alain de Botton has decided it is; he's popped up, angrily, in the comments thread on Caleb Crain's site. Crain linked to his New York Times review of De Botton's "Pleasures and Sorrows of Work" -- a review so negative that one litblogger described it as "basically murdalizing" the book.

If we may address De Botton: Avoid posting anybody's phone number, typo-ridden or not, but do cause a  fuss. Fusses make the Internet go around.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Deborah Feingold

Comments () | Archives (8)

The comments to this entry are closed.

If you can't stand the heat, get out of the Twitterverse.

I don't think the review was plodding; it was balanced. Alice Hoffman's response to legitimate criticism of her work (which was nicely mixed with praise of her earlier novels) was apoplectic. She has a lot to live down from this episode.

I have to say that I find Hoffman's apology lacking in at least one key respect. Nowhere does she mention how completely out of line it was to have given out the reviewer's contact information (even if she got the digits wrong) and encourage vigilantism. Telling her fans to verbally attack another novelist is beyond the pale.

"the strength of Hoffman's response"? WTF? It's a classic non-apology apology. This woman needs to grow the hell up.

Oh Silman had a comment, which was as arrogant and pretentious as her review....proving Hoffman was right. Silman went after Hoffman in an ugly manner, I'm sure to create buzz for herself and to put herself above Alice Hoffman, a true talent and fine writer, who deserved to have her work evaluated fairly.

For anyone who read the book, it is obvious Silman does not get it and probably had a skewed opinion before she read one glorious word.
Silman should apologize, but I doubt she could find her way down from her pedestal to type the words..."I was wrong." God save us from insecure reviewers!

Thanks for such a thorough round-up of this flap.

Re Carolyn's question: "Can writers vent their anger online?" Not in a way that is libelous, or potentially so.

I'm not a lawyer, and the expression of opinion certainly has some First Amendment protections. But a point often made by lawyers for the magazines and newspapers I've worked for is that legally there's a difference between a personal attack ("X is a moron") and and an attack on a work ("the logic in that passage is moronic").

The question I haven't seen answered online is: Is Silman suing or considering suing Hoffman?

Jan Harayda

Yesterday I tried posting a comment on Ms. Hoffman's website guest book suggesting that she offer Ms. Silman a "legitimate" apology. Interestingly, all comments are "reviewed" and only those supporting her position where posted.

I guess some people can dish it out but that's as far as it goes. Shame that a writer of Hoffman's pedigree and experience choose to send 27 tweets - perhaps she should learn some self control.

She's certainly lost my readership.

Hey Alice,

Stop posting stuff under the name 'Elizabeth.'

I have written to Alain after many talks at the opera house and have recieved immediate responses ... I think he is a great writer in that he responds to his supporters immediately :) Its only natural when you have toiled over a piece of work for a significant amount of time to be shot down to react as if you have recieved a rush of blood to the head


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