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.
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