Some readers have emailed to ask why I turned in my pseudonymity yesterday. Some are frankly disapproving: “You were the mystery to be solved, the puzzle with the missing piece. Now, the illusion is ruined and the game is over.” Ruined! Gosh, when you put it like that, I almost have second thoughts! I may never attain true mysteriousness again.
Almost second thoughts…but not quite. It’s not something I’d undo, even if I somehow could–Eternal Sunshine-style, say, or like Glory in season five of Buffy. Hey, what’s a little brainwashing among friends?
Well, I can’t undo it. And I wouldn’t. Therefore I won’t. Your brains are safe. But why do it, and why now? Essentially, I got tired of being two half-people who couldn’t share each other’s work with their respective audiences. I’ve been reviewing books for about ten years, but more regularly in the last year or so. From now on I’ll ask my editors to include the URL for About Last Night in the biographical note beneath my newspaper reviews, and hope that this brings new visitors here. And, more important, I’ll link to my reviews on this page and start blogging more openly about the reviewing racket, which is something I’ve always wished I could do.
For example, in December I wrote positively, even glowingly, about Robert Anderson’s novel on Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, Little Fugue, for the Baltimore Sun. Given the tired subject matter, I looked forward to this assignment with very low hopes indeed. As I wrote for the Sun:
I’ll be frank: another morbid promenade over the well-trampled ground of Sylvia Plath’s suicide isn’t my idea of a good time. After the many existing biographies, memoirs, studies, and at least one novelization–all topped off with the strictly decorative cherry of last year’s Gwyneth Paltrow biopic–can there possibly be anything new to say? Isn’t this whole affair becoming a bit, well, obsessive and ghoulish? If we put a penny in a jar each time someone references Plath’s death, and remove a penny each time someone references her poetry, does anyone truly believe we will ever empty that jar?
The novel, thankfully, defied my expectations.
These are some of the questions that buzz in my head as I crack open Robert Anderson’s new novel about Plath’s death, Little Fugue (named after a poem she wrote in 1962). The first chapter does little to allay my skepticism. Plath has always been a powerful magnet for other writers’ self-dramatics; true to form, the first few pages here are overwrought: “She is a fire that has burned low of its own severity. She lies in her grave now, still awake.” At this point I am considering joining her. Then, something totally unexpected happens: Little Fugue grabs me and holds on.
That review went on to explain why, even though I thought the novel did not succeed in its furthest-reaching ambitions, I still found it immersing and impressive. Its portraits of Hughes and his lover Assia Wevill struck me as vivid and nuanced, especially the haunting depiction of Wevill’s childhood in a war-torn Middle East.
The novel got far less positive notices than mine in the most prominent places: The New York Times Book Review, where Richard Eder weighed in, and the Washington Post Book World, where Michael Schaub, whose coblogging at Bookslut I find delightful, came down particularly hard on it in a sharp, witty piece.
I could see both these reviewers’ points in criticizing the novel, and yet they weren’t enough to make me reconsider my positive take on it. And here the blog could have come in awfully handy: it would have been the perfect place to call attention to these smart critics’ assessments while reiterating my own different view. As a buyer and reader of novels, I like to look at reviews in constellations rather than in isolation whenever possible (which is why I think Ron Hogan’s new “Book Review Review” blog, Beatrix, is such a brilliant idea). And I would have done just that–if I hadn’t been pseudonymous.
Well, I’m pseudonymous no more–though I will hang onto my OGIC tag, which has grown on me over time (like KFC, I never use the spelled-out version myself, though others may, and have my blessing). So you can expect more from me here on books and reviewing, and perhaps on some other previously-skirted subjects that haven’t occurred to me yet in this brave new world. I am, after all, making this up as I go along….