Friday, June 09, 2006

Zed's new review: someone needs a hug

A new review by Tomasz Mrozewski in the Literary Review of Canada June issue (available across Canada) has unintentionally declared my novel Zed to be a cult classic. He doesn’t think much of me as a human being, however, stating the novel “is impelled by sheer force of bile and cynical nihilism.” In fact Tomasz has a lot of words to describe me and occasionally my writing: “Vicious, depravity, coercive, misanthropy, oozes, juvenile, bad taste, excess, unredeemed bile, appropriating, reveling in grotesque violence, such a tantrum.” Oh, Tomasz, not so publicly, you’re embarrassing me (you’re supposed to whisper that while covering me in whip cream).

Though allegedly a book review of Zed, Thomas starts with an evaluation of me as a person, using this blog as evidence and then continues a personal attack, occasionally attacking the book but usually veering off to pour vitriol on my thinking, my view of myself and my life experience. It’s odd because I could have sworn that he isn’t an ex-lover. He starts:

“Elizabeth McClung has staked a claim and is guarding it viciously. ‘every single review has implied that if you are some flower sniffing, dewy-eyed, love watching Little House on the Prairies person and you read Zed’ she writes in her blog, “then you will be found drooling and twitching over page 212 and spend the rest of your days in a locked ward.” McClung seems to think there are two kinds of people in this world: the twee and cowardly on one hand and those brave people who can read and love Zed on the other.”

He continues his evaluation of me and my writing relying heavily on the blog, previous reviews, the essay I wrote on Zed and the press materials sent out by Arsenal Press. The one thing I cannot figure out is whether Tomasz read the novel itself: Quotes from this blog: 4; Quotes from novel Zed: 0. I felt in pretty good company however as his writing shows distain for a great host of people as he uses them as negative examples in comparing them to me or Zed. This includes:

People who like heavy metal music
People who like punk
People who write heavy metal or punk music
People who like slapstick
People who like comic books (or movies about comic books)
People who are cynical
People who like escapism

“While reveling in grotesque violence, McClung’s descriptions of movement and physical actions are evocative of vaudevillian slapstick and modern day comic books” (he is trying to say that’s bad). So, the bad thing about my writing is that the people who like Dark Man, X-Men, Abbott and Costello, Ghost Rider, Niel Gaiman and films which gross over $100 million are going to love it? Damn, bring me some more of that condemnation!

The worst thing for a novel to be greeted with is apathy, so it was with relief that Tomasz Mrozewski showed that while not everyone will like the book, you will react to it (I told Linda when the book was about to be published: “If they like it, they will praise the book, and if they hate it they will attack ME.”). He throws himself into this full page review with something to prove, first by holding me personally accountable for all previous reviews of the book (I want everyone to read the novel. But NOW of Toronto says “I thought I was tough before I cracked the spine of Zed…(try it) if you can handle it.” Then four other reviews say they love the book but explicitly state that this book should not be allowed near children; can I not take some small joy at having been awarded a public safety warning?).

The thing I find deplorable with his review (I will try to type it up and link it for you) is that Tomasz holds himself as public arbiter, not using the novel itself to justify his spleen venting but instead trolling my essay (which for example has a long section on how I construct and write action and movement), this blog and press material to find justification for his condemnation, not of my work, but of my person. That these materials are not available to the person deciding whether or not to read Zed, makes this form of criticism on the same level as someone who reads a personal diary before using the material in a public debate. Of course, there is a perverse pleasure in watching a person lift, half-plagiarize and rephrase the materials you wrote (he wasn’t aware I wrote all the press materials including the back cover blurb) to attack you.

Zed has been crafted to be a mirror, so that each person looking inside may confront a particular reflection, much as I had to do when writing it. What particular anger or experience drove me to write a first draft is irrelevant to a reader's initial experience as each takes away their own reflection, which is why the essay is provided only AFTER reading the book. I am me, you are you; take away what is useful to you.

I don’t know whether Tomasz has looked into that mirror (perhaps what triggered a need to attack the one who holding it?) but I recommend that he try again. In his review he sees all the book’s characters as the worst of a humanity “deeply flawed or roundly condemned...proclamation of human cravenness” and refers to the plot aspect where “The denizens are at first shocked by the discoveries (of dead children) and then begin to gamble on which child will disappear next.” These type of people, like those who like heavy metal music, are far beneath the reviewer. He and his intended audience are the linguistically elite as his review is sprinkled with words like: nascent, machinates, trope, eponymous, misanthropy and detritus. Yet, he ends his review with a judgment that a person like me under “the intensity of her own angst” will likely end up either killing myself or giving in to the need of social conformity: “In the annals of outsider art this high tension...resolves itself into either self-destruction or a move to the suburbs.” Yes, Tomasz Mrozewski, completely unlike characters who gamble on the death of children you have decided to sit back and watch in idle curiosity to whether the struggles and desperation of Elizabeth McClung, a real human being, will find an expression other than the taking of my own life. How different we like to believe we are from those we despise.


Anonymous said...

Get him, Beth. Get him. (EG)

I can't believe that he didn't condemn people who like fencing in his list of people to compare you with.....what? Did he not actually read those Blogs? (G)

Personally, I'm looking forward to finishing off the current book I'm reading tonight, so that I can start in on my brand new copy of Zed ASAP. If he doesn't like it, tell him to come see me in person to talk about it.

kathy wc

elizabeth said...

Woo hoo - let him know that he has just convinced me (even though I kept meaning to do it before) to run right out and pick up a copy. (Does Chapter's stock it? I shall soon find out.) Weeeeeeeeee!

PS - tell him he should get help for all that anger he has bottled up before he hurts someone.

Sober @ Sundown said...

Keep your chin up! There are people who love you, hate you or don't care at all. This gentleman appears to love hating you...... Hmmm, sounds like homophobia to me. The questions that I have are: Why is he so rabid, and where was the editor, (out sick?) when this article was in review?

The Watcher said...

This Mrozewski chimp; what be his address again? Th'crew is preparin' a nice welcome home party for him. Ye know what they saw about reviewers, "Those who can't write, review." Frickin' spot-on with this blackguard.

As far as th' Cap'n personally, I will be beatin' him t'a nice puddle o'puddin' with his own review--after I find those blasted monkeys!

Elizabeth McClung said...

I don't expect all good reviews - though it went something like this: I'm in a national book review magazine, cool! I'm one of two novels reviewed. Oh...he hates me.

I was prepared for problems of the book, a debut novel, itself using words like: 2 dimensional, unconvincing, flat writing, poor dialogue, boring, tedious, slow, poor timing, rushed, trying to force an emotion, poorly plotted, undeveloped, cliche', stereotyped, imitative, redunant, etc.

This was instead an statement of: this is why you wrote this book, this is what you want from people and you are wrong, wrong wrong!

For me, there will always be writers that I may have difference philosophically (like the male dominated worlds of Orson Scott Card, or the "superhuman" views of Ayn Rand) but they are still darn good storytellers - excellent, indeed, and I will tell others that. If you find my book boring - I'm sorry, I tested it from 20 year olds to 74 year old grandmothers and while many found it "disturbing" all found it engaging. If you are personally offended by the narrative voice or some of the characters or that the book exists at all - try to keep repeating this to yourself "It's a work of fiction" - and I don't apologize at all - even if you hate it I succeeded in getting you to crystalize and articulate your feelings about a subject - Success!

kathz said...

For comparison, look at some of the attacks on the Bronte novels when first published, espeically Tenant of Wildfell Hall. They didn't manage to be quite so personal as they were reliant on guesswork about who the authors were but there were lots about how these books were dangerous and shouldn't have been published. Demand for the books rocketed.

This doesn't stop it from being horrible for you, I know, but I hope increased sales and positive responses do the trick.

I'm continuing to chase the novel - if necessary my brother will get it and send it from Canada.

kathz said...

Zed is now available from so I've managed to order it at last!

GayProf said...

stating the novel “is impelled by sheer force of bile and cynical nihilism.”

And you saw this as a critique? Huh. It only made me want to get a copy sooner.

NOTHING said...

dont lisen to his critisum, as u said not everyone is gana like ur book, and like u said he hates u

im still waiting for it to come in myself, i cant wait to start reding it

Elizabeth McClung said...

Thanks Nothing - I can't wait to hear what you think

Gayprof - I resent the labelling of "cynical nihilism" - I like to think of myself as an optimistic nihilist - I know the world will end due to our own stupidity and that makes me happy.

Deanie said...

Beth, your writing is so compelling because of it's honesty and your personal integrity. The reviewer, on the other hand, would seem to have a very bloated ego that is affecting his ability to recognize excellent craftsmanship in writing.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Well, see I kinda thought he was just having a cranky day - that's why I thought he needed a hug. Besides, if he read my blog thoroughly he would know my strange habit of carrying around an epee (or in the case last night two - as a guy nervously said "Good protection at night?" - "I carry a back up for when the first one breaks")

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the guy is on some kind of serious meds or needs them. He is arrogant and what is obvious about his critque is how little fiction if any, he has written himself.

It sounds like he needs a lot more than a hug but who'd want to hug the ass?