I HAVE no problem with your reviewer's strongly disliking my book Motortherapy ("Going with the Flow," December) and clearly detesting the narrator, or me; that's fair comment, and any ego-bruises I might have felt would have been Soothed by other reviewers' opinions. I am surprised, however, by Mary Frances Hill's false assertion that the stories are set in Kenya in the era of that country's new independence." Although five of the 13 stories in Motortherapy are partly set in Kenya, only one of them contains a single incident set there after independence. In several places, by specifically using the term "colony" and by providing actual dares, I make it clear that these stories are set in pre-independence Kenya. The vast majority of the book- the other eight stories -- is set in Canada, the United States, England, and South Africa. So why would Hill make such an elementary mistake? What book did she read? However, that misrepresentation is not my main reason for responding to the review.
Hill makes three specific charges that the book is poorly edited; these are completely unfounded, and call for comment:
1) "Names of people and places are tossed up, never to appear again." Given that discontinuity of characters and places is normal in a book of short stories, Hill's point has no critical merit that I can see, and her scornful tone seems puzzling and incongruous.
2) "In one story a character's name changes from one page to the next." What pages are those? I can't find them. Has she misread something, or is she referring to the character who changes his own name, or what?
3) "Misplaced italics and exclamation marks create confusing, disconnected prose." I take it "misplaced" means "put in the wrong place" - a grammatical error. Sorry, but all punctuation is placed exactly where it was intended by me and three diligent editors at Talonbooks. Despite that, some typos did slip past us all, but not one of them is a misplaced italic character or an exclamation mark, and none could be called confusing. Does she mean that she doesn't like the common conventions I've used for emphasis, etc.? If so, let her say that.
For Hill to generalize, on the basis of these three fallacious charges, that my stories "stumble from within on startling gaffes of style" is at best a hypercritical comment that may reflect more about the reviewer than about the book. Any fair-minded reader can see that she is fabricating "errors," which calls into question her motive in attacking me. Frankly, I'd prefer her to come out from behind this camouflage about "startling gaffes" and tell us what's really on her mind.
It ought to be a cause of embarrassment to BiC to have published a review, the details of which consist almost entirely of unfounded criticisms about sloppiness and lack of care on the part of the author and the publisher, when in fact any lack of care and attention to detail in this case resides, regrettably, with the reviewer.
Mary Frances Hill replies: As a reader and reviewer I never assume that a story's narrator is inseparable from its author. Mr. Schermbrucker's absurd fear of being personally "disliked" can be put to rest. I do, however, stand firmly behind my review of Motortherapy, including the assertions that concern Mr. Schermbrucker the most.
"Misplaced" italics and exclamation marks correctly refers to the author's inappropriate use and overuse of emphasis. Mr. Schermbrucker often uses these "common conventions" in exaggerated play.
It was clear in the review that characters' names appear, then vanish (and, in the case of "Roadkill," change) within a story. Among the many disappeared are the narrator's three consecutive wives. They are dutifully introduced in separate stories, then dropped.
Mr. Schermbrucker's focus on these minor aspects distracts the reader from the essence of the review: that Motortherapy suffers beneath the presence of its narrator, whose arrogance precludes any warmth in many of these stories.
John V. Hicks Prince Albert, Sask.
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