Nathan Whitlock's first book, A Week of This
will be published in April. It's going to be good. I haven't read it yet, but if it's anything like the scathing reviews
he's famous for, expect some lacerating prose.
For a time, Whitlock
worked at my agent's office and through our frequent exchanges, we became friends. We emailed, chatted on the phone, had drinks whenever I visited Toronto. I wrote him a gushing reference letter to help him secure a writing grant. Whitlock was already building quite a reputation as a literary critic. And though I admired and respected his eloquence and intellectual rigor, I had serious doubts about the value of public criticism, and couldn't help but sympathize with his, er, victims.
You see, in the year before Whitlock and I became friends, I had received a particularly unkind review. Granted, it was only one line (the review was of an anthology in which a story of mine appeared) but it affected me enough that I sat on the bookstore floor and scribbled the heinous accusation (I believe it referred to my use of the second person POV as "fey") onto a scrap of paper, along with name of the wretched reviewer, a name I swore I'd carry in my vengeful heart until the day I died -- right after I scurried out to my car and cried into my purse. The damage was deep and sharp, and it seemed that I might never recover. But eventually, the scrap of paper slipped in with the slurry of papers on my desk, and reviewer's name gave way to larger, more urgent anxieties. Time, apparently, does heal most wounds, at least those inflicted by critics.
Not long after my first book was published, Nathan left my agent's office to focus on his own writing. I was thrilled for him, and we stayed in contact, though more sporadically. It was while I was avoiding work on my second book that I decided to reorganize my rejection file, and discovered, to my amazement, that long forgotten scrap of paper. Though years had passed, the pithy line that had sent me into months of anguish and self-doubt still stung as I read it. And then I burst out laughing. Recorded there in my cramped, wounded scrawl, the agent of my humiliation, the reviewer I had sworn to hate forever: Nathan Whitlock.