When we were talking about Jamaica Kincaid’s book See Now Then, it was difficult to ignore the strange reception the book was getting. The little gossipmongers Dwight Garner and Sam Sacks just couldn’t bear not dredging up Kincaid’s personal life, speculating that the divorce in the novel was identical to her divorce in real life, and telling her she should have kept the book in a drawer somewhere.
Not liking See Now Then is a legitimate response to a book. It’s a weird book, and prickly, and there were times I was convinced I didn’t like it either, although I warmed to it. But there was something a little gross about those reviews. But it’s so boring and trite to just call out Sexism!, isn’t it? Because we know all the pathways that saying someone is being sexist opens up. They are narrow and limited and none of them end in good places. And it’s hard to prove unconscious motivations.
But I got a very interesting email from a reader, who would like to remain anonymous, but gave me permission to reprint.Hi,
I’m enjoying your coverage of Jamaica Kincaid’s book and the attending, in my opinion, biased sexist press. It’s interesting that Junot Diaz’s recent mediocre to poor story collection was a depiction of his relationships etc… (he’s copped to it in interviews) and the press/reviews mostly praised it as art, and nominated it for awards… The New York Times book reviewer even called the narrator Díaz’s alter ego! The narcissism and self-indulgence of those stories is epic…
Whereas Kincaid is being called out for being self-indulgent, vindictive etc and her reviews have been terrible to mixed. I also wonder whether Diaz’s position as a Pulitzer judge has influenced his books’ reception by reviewers and the vitriol towards Kincaid more weighted because Kincaid’s ex is a public figure (vs. the relative anonymity—and their deafening silence in the stories—of Díaz’s women).
I love this email. And I thank its sender for allowing me to reprint it.