One of the first bits of advice writers are given as their books make their way into the world is “don’t engage with the reviewers.” A quick glance at the letters section of the NYT Book Review on any given Sunday will show you how often that counsel is ignored, but since there’s no guarantee a newspaper will run an author’s letter—if they even have a letters section—the Internet provides another opportunity for writers to speak out when they think they’ve been badly reviewed. And when a critic frames her rejection in the form of an open letter to the author, as Carolyn See did to Porochista Khakpour in the pages of the Washington Post while reviewing Sons and Other Flammable Objects, perhaps it’s inevitable that the author responds on her blog. After all, as Khakpour writes, “When a reviewer gets personal, they deserve getting responded to personally.” And it doesn’t get much more personal than See’s “I had trouble with this novel, had actual trouble reading it, and I thought it best to address you directly.”
“I have had my share of pokes and prods in even good reviews without getting a bit worked up about it,” Khakpour explains later on, “but generally the critics present themselves as responsible, stable, cultured reviewers.” Not so, she believes, See, whose letter appears to be intended as a public rebuke of all the praise the novel is getting from other quarters. Among See’s complaints: The characters aren’t believable, there’s too much symbolism, and how can Americans of Iranaian descent just up and fly back to their homeland without dealing with the consulate? Well, as Khakpour points out, there hasn’t been an Iranian consulate in the United States since the two nations broke off diplomatic relations in the late 1970s. As for the other two accusations, Brooklynites can judge for themselves tomorrow night when Khakpour reads at the Park Slope Barnes & Noble, but don’t expect a friendly reconciliation between the two writers any time soon: Khakpour dismisses the review as a strange misreading from “a very bitter, confused old lady” with “her granny panties in a bunch.”
As one would expect, the comments on Khakpour’s blog are largely supportive, except for one anonymous poster who seems hellbent on proving Khakpour’s a hypocrite for responding to See’s criticism.