William Giraldi vs. Alexander Chee: The NYT Alix Ohlin Chainsaw

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William Giraldi recently panned Alix Ohlin’s latest in The New York Times Book Review. Alexander Chee didn’t like it, so he posted on Facebook:

What a giant pile of horseshit this review is. Alix deserved better. This is a disgrace. Also, to review the reviewer, William Girardi can’t write worth a damn. This reads like a frantic doily stretched to fit around his narcissistic projections on literature, himself and Alix. May we all be spared anything from him further.” – Alexander Chee

Chee then quoted Giraldi and tacked on: “‘When self-pity colludes with self-loathing and solipsism backfires into idealism, the only outcome is insufferable schmaltz.’ Yes, Giraldi. This in fact describes your review.”

Gee whiz Chee, so let me get this straight, you evidently disliked Giraldi’s review because ‘Alix deserved better’, and to hammer the point you take a cheap shot at Giraldi?

Chee, though, had an ally in hitman Richard “Three Fingers” Bausch, who responded, “I’m working on a mystery novel in which a critic like this is murdered and there are seven thousand three hundred and fifty two suspects.”

What is the matter with some writers? Anis Shivani, after his “The 15 Most Overrated Contemporary Writers“, and Dale Peck, with Hatchet Jobs, pissed people off. Why? I don’t go out of the way to review bad books. I usually don’t finish them. But a couple times I received a review copy, finished, engaged, and felt the crappy novel deserved a howl, and that’s my call. Reviewers shouldn’t fear offending tissue paper shelled writers and their fans/friends, they should address readers. I’ll bet many people who never heard of Ohlin now have, and some may even buy her book as a result of this publicity. She’ll survive.

As for Girardi, I’ve  read stories by him, not his novel, but he can write. His NYT review gets absurd (he criticizes the title), but he hated Ohlin’s work and unleashed. So? I have not read Ohlin thus cannot defend her fiction, but:  1) to hate negative criticism and take similar cheap shots is lame. 2) Giraldi’s opinion is just that, deal or move on.

I said all this to Chee, in so many words, and he responded with, and I quote verbatim, “Hey, fuck you.”

Giraldi’s opinion carries weight, as problematic as his review might be. I suspect Chee didn’t discover what a bad writer Giraldi was until post-NYTBR, which speaks volumes of Chee.

UPDATE: Great review on topic by Bill Marx of NYT book critic Dwight Garner’s take on Jack Green’s Fire the Bastards.  “The book world doesn’t need more yes-saying novelists and certainly no more yes-saying critics. We need more excellent and authoritative and punishing critics—perceptive enough to single out the voices that matter for legitimate praise, abusive enough to remind us that not everyone gets, or deserves, a gold star.” – Dwight Garner

Bill Marx also cites Edmond Wilson’s battle cry against the incestuous world of writers, while he reminds us that going overboard has flaws as well. Good stuff, Bill.

Writers need to remember: Praise everyone and you praise no one.

Related: On the absence of hatchet-work amongst Canada’s Book Reviewers – by Brian Fawcett at

NYTBR:  Are novelists too wary of criticizing other novelists?

David Foster Wallace @NYTimes:  Borges on the Couch

Written by Caleb Powell

August 20, 2012 at 1:42 pm

4 Responses

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  1. […] review isn’t that it’s negative, but that it takes a dishonest approach to criticism. As one blogger put it, “to hate negative criticism…is lame.” But the problem isn’t negative criticism. […]

  2. […] again the OUTRAGED rise up to say HOW DARE HE? and OH I FEEL SO SORRY FOR POOR LITTLE ALIX. (See here and […]

  3. […] again the OUTRAGED rise up to say HOW DARE HE? and OH I FEEL SO SORRY FOR POOR LITTLE ALIX. (See here and […]

  4. […] the OUT­RAGED rise up to say HOW DARE HE? and OH I FEEL SO SORRY FOR POOR LIT­TLE ALIX. (See here and […]

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