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    May 02, 2008


    steven gillis

    I do not know Mark personally, have never met or spoken to him but I did read Harry Revised on Dan's recommendation and enjoyed the novel very much indeed. Here is the letter I have just sent to the Times:

    To the Editor:

    Upon reading Troy Patterson's review of Mark Sarvas' novel, Harry Revised, I was shocked at the tone and assault inflicted by Mr. Patterson and felt compelled to write of such. First, Mr. Patterson claims the only reason Mr. Sarvas' novel was reviewed in the Times was that Mr. Sarvas writes the literary blog, The Elegant Variation. What right Mr. Patterson has to impugn the integrity of the Times is a mystery. Perhaps he has some ax to grind that his own less that sterling tv reviews have yet to find their way into a broader circulation than - yes - an online blog. As for his claims that the novel is poorly constructed and "Harry does not seem to have been reread, never mind revised," and that Mr. Sarvas made poor and improper word choices in the text, I can only say that my reading of 'Harry Revised' found nothing of this to be true. The novel is perfectly pitched, well crafted and keenly articulated. What purpose is served by Mr. Patterson delivering such an utterly unprofessional hatchet job, ill-conceived in context and unjustly presented, one can only guess. Why, indeed, the Times allows a tv reporter to sling his hash about in this manner, without a modicum of substance or intelligence, reflects poorly back upon both the publisher and the source. For whatever 'Harry Revised' is, Mr. Patterson's claims of the novel being banal and crude are subjective mudslinging undeserving of appearing in any sort of review which hopes to be taken seriously. All reviewers have the right - and indeed the duty - to present their opinions on a text. A reviewer does not have the right to issue a personal condemnation and assault. That I feel Mr. Patterson's assessment of 'Harry Revised' is wrong, is beside the point. What is at issue is the credibility of the reviewer. I would hope the Times would take Mr. Patterson's work under advisement and that his reviews, such as they are, will not grace these pages again.

    Steven Gillis
    The writer is an author and co-founder/publisher of Dzanc Books


    The "blogger" comment sounded odd to me, too - as if the reviewer doesn't think the book is worthy of the high-and-mighty NYTBR were it not for Sarvas' prominence as a blogger. Since nobody (and especially not the blog-hostile NYTBR) would argue that being a prominent blogger automatically earns you a spot in a high-end critical review, the reviewer instead seemed to imply "This book is no good, but I'm reviewing it anyway to sully and further de-legitimatize the blog medium."

    For the life of me I still can't fathom the palpable animosity that mainstream literary critics hold against bloggers. Presumably we share the same goal - to promote great literature. But these repeated swipes at bloggers suggest that mainstream critics don't care about great literature nearly as they care about hearing the bleating of their own voices, uninterrupted by the online rabble.


    Someone let me know if the entirety of the review appears anywhere online. I'd like to have a look. Patterson's allowed his opinions about the book, provided he can back them up, but suggesting that Mark's book is getting reviewed there solely because of his top-five book blog - well, that's a pretty flimsy conclusion to draw, unless the reviewer was instructed to review it because of TEV. Should I ever be published, I'd like to think my non-writing career wouldn't be called upon in the review.

    Regardless, it sounds like a piece of crap review, based on what you guys have said about it.

    Dave Lull

    The Trouble With Harry
    Published: May 4, 2008

    Stephen Policoff

    Although the review was snarky and possibly biased I have to say that the comment about Mr. Sarvas' blogging is true on its face--that is, not that his being a known blogger is a good or bad thing (which may have been what the reviewer meant) but that his novel is getting reviewed in the Times because he is a known blogger. As a novelist whose book was barely reviewed anywhere...and gee, I think I'm not alone here...I know that books get reviewed these days in places like the Times not because they are good or bad but because they are perceived to have something otherwise inriguing about them (the author is a celebrity chef, the author is an albino dwarf, the author is the son of a Times columnist). On that level, the blog factor is indeed what got the book reviewed, fair or unfair though that may be.

    steven gillis

    I dont want to turn this into anything more than it is, and as a writer of 3 novels and one ssc, I know the frustration of crossing one's fingers in the hope of reviews, and there is some merit to Mr. Policoff's claim. That said, I have also been at this game long enough to know the NYT could give a rat's arse about the Elegant Varition or anything resembling such. They review books because Mark's novel was published by a high profile press and the novel on its face was taken seriously. I fully agree many books get published and reviewed because the author is of a certain "sexiness" but I truly dont think a blog - even the best of the best - would draw so much as an eyebrow raised by the NYT. Sadly, I suspect few at the Times knew of TEV before Mr. Patterson mentioned it. The tenor of Mr. Patterson's email, and his mention of TEV, reflects back on Mr. Patterson more than it does the reality of why Mark was reviewed. Hell, my new novel was just released and if this argument held water, my work with Dzanc and 826michigan should have gotten me a review. Likewise, many many great writers with their own sexy story and/or worthy track record do not get reviewed in the Times or elsewhere. Why? Who knows. Is it fair? No. Is there something rotten in Denmark? A bit, maybe. I just dont think in this case, the editors at the Times said, "Hey, its the TEV guy, we have to review him." Maybe it would be cool if this was the case, as it would mean they took notice of TEV but in truth they dont and that is their mistake. The review by Mr. Patterson is a different issue entirely and shows what a numbnut he is.

    M. Barber

    I took Patterson's point not that the book got reviewed because Sarvas is a blogger, but that the book got published because Sarvas is a blogger with a theoretically built-in audience. Either way it's a below the belt and irrelevant, but it seems odd that a reviewer who seems to primarily work in the internet (for Slate) would hold a grudge against a blogger.

    It's a harsh review no doubt, but he does cite specifics. The guy hated the book and wanted to hang the worst of the prose around the author's neck. Any book is bound to have some clunkers and Patterson found all of them.

    John Domini

    The other comments all have fine things to say, things that set me nodding. I'll just add one small encouragement. A bad review in the Times can do short-term damage, but needn't make difference in the long haul. My own worst review -- perhaps my only truly bad one ever -- was a numbskull thing in the Times. People showed me letters sent in response, though these went unprinted. Yet since then, I've enjoyed my best publications and most sympathetic readings. And so fine a writer as Richard Price appeared, maybe 20 years back or so, under the glaring headline "The Fonzie of Literature." He's done all right.

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