Like a lot of people, I got a bit charged up when I read Ruth Fowler’s review of Téa Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife in The Huffington Post. Frankly, I’d never read Fowler or Obreht at that point, but other than saying The Tiger’s Wife was overwritten and dull most of Fowler’s criticism seemed to be an over generalized indictment of MFA programs. I thought I would read both The Tiger’s Wife and Fowler’s book, No Man’s Land, and see what I thought.
Frankly, I ended up with a lot less to say than I thought. Fowler’s book is a memoir of her time as a stripper when she was having trouble breaking into the literary world despite impressive credentials. Obreht’s book is fiction. There is little to compare there.
Even more frankly, I did like both books. Though, perhaps I did not like and/or dislike either book as much as many other people.
Fowler’s book had some great moments of insight, but I thought she was still too close to her pain and rage at what she had been through for her to be truly effective. Too much felt like posturing and expectation that people would be shocked at what she had been through. Though there was some very impressive writing, I thought it could have been better if Fowler had come to terms with what she had been through before writing. I still think that her future books, once she gets the chip off her shoulder when sitting down to talk to readers, will be something that people will really need to read. You can check out my full review here.
I also liked Obreht’s book, but didn’t think it was the literary discovery of the century. My full review can be found here, but unfortunately I probably talk too much about Fowler there as well. Really, I liked the blending of the fable-like elements with more modern narrative. I didn’t find it dull, overwritten, or particularly self-indulgent. I thought it was a good story with good characters, but I didn’t think it was the greatest thing since sliced bread (take that as either a cliché or a reference to the Don Robertson novel as you will).
Actually, some things I could agree with Fowler on. The hype machine can destroy our ability to enjoy books, making us expect too much, take opinions of others instead of forming our own, or destroy a book before we read it. However, I found her criticisms a bit too vitriolic and over generalized for me to be able to stomach.
I mean, the entire MFA system? Hell, I have an MFA and you don’t see me winning the Orange Prize. I write, rewrite, submit and all that just like anybody else. Maybe someday I’ll do something worth an Orange Prize. Maybe not. Maybe prizes and recognition will go to books I don’t think are worth it. Maybe not. Regardless, I’m just not that worried about it. The most important thing is the writing and my MFA program helped mine. Beyond that, I’m just going to get back to my writing and not get bitter about everything else.
Besides, Fowler had much more prestigious degrees than I do anyway.
So, anyway, maybe I didn’t have as much to say about this (or as worthwhile things to say) as I hoped I would. I think people should just have a good time reading Obreht’s book and Fowler’s book and not worry so much about praising/hating either of the books, the authors, or “the man.”
Frankly, from the price increase I saw on Amazon for Fowler’s book, I think she owes a bit of a debt to Obreht’s book now. Nothing gets people interested in an author who is languishing in obscurity than a good literary war.