I’m not being coy when I say I was surprised. I knew the Post was considering my novel but reviews typically happen—if they’re going to—within four to six weeks of publication. The Forever Marriage has been out nearly eight. I checked the Post pages avidly for a while, only giving up a few days ago.
And the review is welcome not only because it will bring attention to my book, but because it’s an honest, somewhat brazen analysis by a novelist and writing instructor I do not know. It’s likely Lisa Zeidner had never heard of me before she was given this assignment. We have no relationship and move in completely different circles. Given the buzz last week, about writers stroking other writers in order to boost their own careers, I’m happier than I can say to have a searing and objective assessment of my book—imperfect bits and all.
There is something validating, on a professional level, about being held to account. Why wasn’t Carmen’s relationship with her daughter better drawn in my novel? Well, I, too, asked that question as I wrote. And I struggled. At one point, I brought Siena firmly into the plot with a huge dramatic crisis that I later decided was ridiculous. If Zeidner wondered why the girl was flimsy, she had reason to: I wondered the same myself.
But most extraordinary, especially after my post the other day about infinity and love, was Zeidner’s appreciation for the mathematical puzzle my characters work out. In the best sentence of this (or any other) review she said: “This part of the plot is scintillating, like a modern update of A.S. Byatt’s Possession. The hypothesis proves what Carmen grows to understand about her bad luck, as her oncologist explains about the odds of surviving cancer: ‘Groups are consistent; individuals are random. You are but one point in a set of millions. Your course is not determined.’”
It’s interesting to me that the very qualities in my book many Goodreads reviewers find “depressing” or “stupid” actually made the Washington Post take notice. Far from hating my flawed protagonist, Zeidner said “one of the novel’s chief strengths is that its heroine is so sharp and unsentimental.” There is a real difference between the recreational reader, who wants a safe and pleasant carousel ride, and the serious reader who wants to be unsettled and provoked.
Some authors write to become famous or make money but I don’t write for either of these reasons (thank God—I’d be so disappointed!). I write to solve real questions and hope that my work is respected. This review confirmed for me that thoughtful people are listening, and I’m at least on the right track.
*You’ll find the full text of Lisa Zeidner’s review of The Forever Marriage here.