Last week I posted a whine, masquerading as an analysis of the state of book reviewing in the 21st century.
It was couched in neutral, semi-scholarly language, but the take-away was essentially, "Poor, sensitive writers, laboring for a year or more in the coal mine of the imagination and then emerging blinking in the sunlight just in time to see their precious manuscript shredded by some clueless and unqualified critic who regards someone else's creative output as a straight line for a stolen wisecrack."
To my shame, I wrote that self-pitying screed during a period when I was getting some of the best reviews of my life. But it just goes to show you what a craven, resentful lot we novelists (or, perhaps, this novelist) are (is).
You want to know who really has something to complain about?
Composers, that's who.
The evening of the day I posted that piece, my wife and I had dinner with two friends, one of whom is a member of the extremely select group of American classical composers who actually earn a living by writing serious contemporary music. I was in full martyr mode, really wringing the topic out, but it was impossible not to notice that I wasn't generating much sympathy. My friend was doing everything short of looking at his watch.
When I ran out of steam, my friend (who shall remain nameless for reasons that will be apparent immediately) said, "Okay, imagine this. Imagine you've written a new piece, maybe the best thing you've done in years. It gets a performance in a prestigious venue, and you're told that most of the critics who really matter will be in the audience. You spend every available moment before the premiere working with the musicians.
"And when the night comes, you get all dressed up and go, and the musicians butcher it,"
Dorothy Parker had a wonderful line, "What fresh new hell is this?" I have to say that it's difficult to imagine anything much worse than hearing wrong note after wrong note in your composition as you sit there in real time with the audience and the critics, completely unable to do anything . . . at . . . all . . . about it.
I once licked an envelope and got a deep paper cut on the tip of my tongue, and that's the closest I can come to suggesting the way this experience must feel. And my friend is, as I assume all composers are, a sensitive soul. And aurally, he's super-sensitive. Each one of those clams must have sounded to him like a rear-end collision.
This would be the equivalent, I suppose, of having my new novel read aloud on national television by the cast of "The Jersey Shore" and knowing that all the critics are sharpening their wits not on what I wrote but on how it's being butchered. Of checking Amazon obsessively during the broadcast and watching the numbers actually go backward as copies are returned. And to know that I'm powerless to affect the way Snooki will read the next line.
So . . . the sound you won't hear next week will be me complaining. About anything.
Tim -- Sunday