Alice Hoffman Is Ready to Rumble

By Neal Comment

Alice Hoffman has a new novel out, and The Boston Globe reviewed it yesterday—freelance critic Roberta Silman, though describing herself as a fan of Hoffman’s “gifts of precise prose and the ability to create sympathetic characters” in previous novels like Illumination Point, said The Story Sisterslacks the spark of the earlier work.” The assessment, though negative, is hardly a dogpile; Silman may have found the story “too coy, too contrived,” but she also spotted some “wonderful passages” in Hoffman’s writing.

So how did Alice Hoffman take the review?


In addition to playing the Famous Writer Card on Twitter, Hoffman also played, among others, the Feminist Card (“Girls are taught to be gracious and keep their mouths shut. We don’t have to”), the Provincial Critic Card (“This is a town where a barking dog is the second top story on the news”), the Lousy Paper Card (“No wonder there is no book section in the Globe anymore – they don’t care about their readers, why should we care about them”), and the Post Your Enemy’s Email & Phone Number Online Card (encouraging fans to further validate her reaction and “tell her what u think of snarky critics”).

That last bit in particular has some observers shaking their heads at Hoffman’s behavior—yes, as she noted on Twitter, “writers have a way to talk back now,” and in some ways the rise of online networking tools has changed the fundamental power dynamic between writers, reviewers, and readers. The relationships between writers and readers, and between reviewers and readers, have become more conversational; it’s only natural for the relationship between writers and reviewers to undergo a similar shift. By way of comparison, however, recall Porochista Khakpour‘s response to Carolyn See after a negative review of Sons and Other Inflammable Objects in 2007. Yes, Khakpour dismissively referred to See as “a very bitter, confused old lady,” but she didn’t call upon her fans to start harassing the critic. And if, as Hoffman claimed in response to a criticism of her tactics by Washington Post reviewer Ron Charles, “I’m not going after anyone… It’s about editors who allow reviewers to give the plot away,” why did she send her fans after Roberta Silman, rather than the editors of the Boston Globe?

Oh, and to answer Hoffman’s question—while you were working on your first novel, Property Of, in graduate school in the mid-1970s, Roberta Silman was publishing the short stories that came out of her graduate school work in magazines like the New Yorker and preparing them for a collection called Blood Relations, so you both published your first book-length works of “literary fiction” in 1977… except she had already published a YA novel called Somebody Else’s Child the year before that. That’s who Roberta Silman is.