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January 17, 2005


David Montgomery

Any reviewer who gives away a part of the plot that should reasonably be kept hidden is a jerk. It's not like it's hard to decide what to leave other either. If it's a surprise, you keep it that way!

I've never knowingly revealed any secret plot points in a review -- although, even then, you can't please everyone. I've still heard from people who thought I gave away things I shouldn't have. But fortunately, those complaints have been few and far between.

As Sarah points out, it's easy not to reveal too much in a 200-word review (which is a large part of what I write, as well.) If anything, the problem is the opposite. But even in 1600-word reviews, I think I've always stayed on the right side of things.

But that's because I make the effort to do so. Any reviewer who doesn't is just being lazy. They should promptly be fired and I (or Sarah) should be hired in their place. :)

Kevin Wignall

Interesting that you didn't mention Anderson's review of "For the Dogs", not least because it points to another weakness of this kind of review - the concentration on exposition is usually at the expense of any deeper critique. Reading Anderson's review of my book would have given you a rough sketch of the plot - giving away several key developments in the process - and the blunt fact that he didn't believe it. Does that tell anyone if this book's for them? Absolutely not. I don't know if this is typical of Anderson's reviews, but it suggests a reviewer who doesn't understand books beyond the level of the high school lit-crit. As David says, it's lazy reviewing - "I can't think of anything meaningful to say about this work, so I'll just tell you what happens". If Anderson were reviewing "To the Lighthouse" he'd probably say, "Some people plan to visit a lighthouse, and many years later, some of them actually make that visit. Not much else happens".
Incidentally, lest anyone should think this is sour grapes on my part... I've mentioned before that David wasn't a fan of For the Dogs and yet I'd happily see him reviewing it for the WaPo, because I've seen how he reviews and I know he'd explain to the reader why it didn't do it for him. I'm sure all the other writers who hang around here would agree that there isn't much argument with that kind of review.

James C. Hess

He includes spoilers in his reviews because other reviewers do it? That makes no sense whatsoever. As the old saying goes: If everyone else jumped off a cliff would you do it?

It seems to me that if a reviewer wanted to stand out they would look at what other reviewers in their field are doing and NOT do that.


I still haven't recovered from Anderson's review of Anne Perry's _Shoulder the Sky_, in which he said he couldn't understand why Perry would deal with World War I when Hemingway et al had already covered the subject so ably.

As if there is an embargo on subject matter!


Critics often spoil plots by pointing out how hard they're working NOT to include spoilers. I haven't yet seen Clint Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby", but I'm about 99% certain I know what happens to Hilary Swank's character because of the gyrations critics have gone through to avoid telling me.

David Montgomery

I don't think Anderson is saying that people shouldn't write on the subject. "If Perry's novel is a skillful popular entertainment, it is also a reminder of the limitations of such fiction in dealing with human tragedy on a scale that should make the heavens weep." Sounds fair enough.


Elaine Flinn

I'd like to make a comment about David Montgomery and the way he handles reviews. Not only does he NOT give away a plot, he skillfully entices, critiques with an even hand (which I listen to!), shows great enthusiasm when he really likes something...and without the two major reviews he so kindly and graciously gave me with my first and second books, I doubt I'd still be around to hope the next one might sell a few copies.

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