Through It Came the Urge to Smack the Crap Out of Someone: Trebor Healey ‘n Me

I happened to be on a train in Italy, going from Pisa to Pontedera (of all places), when I learned from my traveling companion, an Italian writer, that Trebor Healey was “furious” with me for a review I had written of his novel, Through it Came Bright Colors, more than a year earlier.

Healey was furious, I was given to understand, not because I had written a negative review, but because I had posted it on amazon.com anonymously.

Which is sort of like the person who hounds you mercilessly because you owe him five bucks and then says, “It’s not the money, you understand, it’s the principle of the thing.” In other words, it’s the money.

Now, I am willing to concede that Trebor Healey may be a more principled human being than I am. But that still doesn’t make him a good writer, and it still doesn’t make Through it Came Bright Colors a good book.

But before I get to (as they say) the merits, let’s ask ourselves this musical question: If my review was “anonymous,” how did Healey come to find out that I wrote it?

Fact is, for reasons that (believe it or not, and foolishly or not) had to do with wanting to avoid embarrassing Healey, who lives in the same wretched, mutually masturbatory, and inbred literary “community” that I did, I wrote the review under a pseudonym, but it was not ever “anonymous.” Amazon allows users to click on a reviewer’s name and to see “more about him/her” — assuming there is more to see. In my case, anyone who did so would have found my name right there, for all to see.

But let’s suppose, arguendo, that I had posted anonymously. What difference would that actually have made? Go to amazon and you’ll find reviews of Healey’s book written by “Jim Steele,” “Oceanus Gregory,” “Chris Maloy,” “Jim Zimmer,” and “Amy Foster,” among thousands of others.

Are these “real” people? Do you know any of them? Does it matter to you to find out that Amy Foster is a chemist who lives in Waukeegan and likes to tat in her spare time? Does it matter if I write as Wendell Ricketts or as Sukkiami Laminchia?

I mean, I’ve never clapped eyes on Trebor Healey in my life that I know of, so what difference does it make whether Wendell Ricketts thought his book sucked or whether some person claiming to be Wendell Ricketts thought his book sucked?

Meanwhile, there’s the matter of the positive amazon.com reviews of Through it Came Bright Colors. Amazon allows — but does not require — reviewers to verify a “real name,” and glowing (not to say radioactive) reviews of Healey’s book have been posted by Chad Sosna, Stuart Timmons, Paul Taylor, Greg Taylor (related to Paul???), Sven Davisson, Chris “Bizarro Universe,” Dickens 79, alkalphx, blissengine, iracema1, and “a reader.” None of these names is verified and, I think it is safe to say, at least a few of them are probably even (gasp!!) pseudonyms.

But I’m going to assume that Trebor Healey is not “furious” about these pseudonymous/anonymous POSITIVE reviews, only about the fact that I posted a pseudonymous NEGATIVE one. Take out all the extraneous words, boys and girls, and what we’re left with is this: Trebor Healey doesn’t like being criticized.

Well, who does? I certainly don’t.

The first two reviews on amazon of Everything I Have Is Blue were written by a pair of mooncalves who evidently read it in a bad Urdu translation while seated under a 15-watt bulb and simultaneously trying to remember to draw inside the lines in their My Pet Goat coloring book. In other words, they seriously chapped my ass. But that’s the way the cookie crumbles, ennit?

After my review of Through it Came Bright Colors appeared on amazon.com, suffice it to say that several of Healey’s friends leapt to his rescue with positive (not to say hyperglycemic) reviews designed to counter mine — which is what makes the reviews on amazon a lot like running for eighth-grade class president and only a little like an honest evaluation of literature — and a couple of them also dropped me personal notes to find out whether I had any idea what a rat bastard I am.

Well for heaven’s sake.

Of course I do.

As if that has anything to do with the fact that Healey wrote (let me say it again) a bad book. A bad book that has received, against all reason, numerous prizes and has actually been reprinted more than once — a fate that only a tiny, tiny fraction of queer fiction can boast of.

I can’t help but think of the long, petulant piece that Jonathan Franzen contributed (though I use the term loosely) to the New Yorker in 1996, in which he whined like a punk about how a writer of serious literary fiction like him couldn’t get the recognition he deserved in the current marketplace because all anybody cared about was trash and how he couldn’t get a serious literary novel published or have the serious literary career he was (evidently) entitled to have.

Mind you, at the time he had a Guggenheim Fellowship under his belt, alongside a Fulbright, a Whiting Prize, and a Yaddo Fellowship, and was writing regularly for The New Yorker, Granta, Grand Street, Paris Review, and Harper’s.

Since then, he’s gone on to win an NEA grant and a National Book Award, to write The Corrections, and to make a stone-fucking-fool of himself during the whole Oprah debacle (in which he allowed as how her literary tastes were too lowbrow for the likes of him and asked her to “unselect” The Corrections for the Oprah Book Club).

I am fully aware, of course, that if bourgeois, overprivileged white boys didn’t spend all their time reminding you that they weren’t getting everything they had coming to them, why, it might just slip your mind, mightn’t it? (Admit it, you’re forgetful that way.) So if Trebor Healey is “furious” with me, well, it’s just what I deserve for interrupting the chain of … um … merit.

Speaking of chains, Daisy, Franzen is now being interviewed in the New Yorker by Ben Greenman, who has stepped up to take his place in the frenzy of mutual oral copulation that extends from Franzen through Dave Eggers and on to the rest of the McSwine.

Frankly, managing to be bitter enough or cynical enough about all this is the sort of thing that takes up all your time, and you can never get any reading done, but I promise to keep on trying.

In any case, since this Trebor Healey bullshit has followed me all the way from San Francisco to Italy, and since I truly do not give a crap, I’ve done the following: (a) deleted the “offending” review from amazon and (b) reposted it here, in front of god and everybody, pseudonymous or “anonymous” no longer.

If I follow the logic, Trebor Healey ought to be my new best friend.

*****************************************

These colors are a little faded….September 16, 2004

Despite the inexplicably laudatory reviews [posted on amazon.com] (many, evidently, from Healey’s friends rather than from those in a position to review the book critically and honestly), this remains a minor work that suffers from lack of editing and, more egregiously, from a failure of vision. Though there are occasional flashes of talent, the book ultimately bogs down under the desire to lay claim to some sort of trendy, post-modern, Dennis Cooperesque street cred that utterly falsifies the plot.

Some have apparently understood this as a YA novel, and that may be about right. True to that genre, it is a “problem” novel, but it is not yet the work of a mature writer of fiction. The main characters of Through it Came Bright Colors are Neill and his “love” interest, Vince, a self-absorbed, sociopathic drug addict, and the book’s “drama” revolves largely around the question of whether Neill’s “relationship” with Vince will endure despite Vince’s emotional cruelty, his inability to form human connections, and his refusal to get a job.

These rather serious shortcomings, one gathers, are intended to make Vince all youthfully hip, counter-cultural, and cool, but in fact they simply make him pathetic. The reader is expected to have sympathy for Neill’s whinging over how hard it is to have a meaningful relationship with a kleptomaniac drug addict, but Neill is the only one who is surprised when his hopeless, pointless obsession with Vince ends as it must. (You might think this was a spoiler, but the denouement of this extended trick session is so obvious that only someone who has never read a novel before would fail to anticipate the ending from about a mile off.)

Neill’s only real connection to Vince, meanwhile, is sexual fetishism (and descriptions of Vince’s “Sicilian armpit hair” can’t be read without wincing), a superficiality that, standing alone, would be sufficient to mar the effort. Given the current state of queer fiction, however, it is also beyond trite. Throughout the book, Neill is never more than a tourist in the suffering of others — which the reader is apparently meant to experience as his deeply poetic nature. More than 200 pages of soullessness, however, become tedious in the extreme.

The secondary characters are cardboard and malformed, particularly Neill’s parents, who repeat identical phrases and have identical responses to every event in the book. Healey needs the character of Neill’s father to carry off a lame little coming-out drama (speaking of scenes you’ve read eight thousand times); otherwise, their presence is all but useless.

Neill’s brother, suffering from cancer and forced to undergo mutilating surgeries, is the single truly interesting character in the book because he, at least, has the chance to experience something important and to move through it into a new life. Unfortunately, Healey makes him as emotionally constipated as the other characters, such that he can only just barely identify a genuine feeling.

The final, movie-of-the week chapter resolves nothing (other than the need to put the book out of its misery), and can be considered “moving” only by people who find AT&T commercials moving. It’s poetic, but so are Hallmark cards.

Healey may write better books in the future, but I hope he does not believe his own hype, including the press-releases published by friends and well-wishers [here on amazon]. It’s nice when your friends like your work and help arrange for you to get rewarded for it, but that’s nepotism, not literary criticism. Having a modest effort hailed as though it were the complete works of Shakespeare is only going to hurt Healey’s writing, not help it.

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Posted on 29 November 2005, in Book Reviews & Literaria and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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