Patrick Somerville was devastated when his wife read him the New York Times' negative review of his latest book, until he noticed the reviewer screwed up part of the plot that would have completely changed her perception of the book.
Somerville, as he describes writing for Salon, was having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day when his wife read him the New York Times' Janet Maslin's review of his latest book, This Bright River. A bad review here and there is okay, but a review from the Times can make or break a book. Somerville responded the same way we would have. "As I am an atheist, I made noises directed at no one and nothing. I then, without removing my face from the couch-hole, picked up a throw pillow and gently placed it on the floor, blind," he writes. His cat tried to help by sitting on his back. Maslin's positive review of his first book, The Cradle, had helped sales, so this one especially stung.
After getting a drink and reading the review for himself, he noticed that Maslin confused two of the characters during an important plot point and completely misread the book. "It was really important to not mix up those characters," he says. Then he watched Storage Wars to cope.
Somerville was surprised when, a few days later, he received an email from Ed Marks, a Times editor, in the inbox of an account he set up for This Bright River's main character asking about the mistake in Maslin's review. He responded in character and told Marks about the mix up, but the exchange didn't end there. Somerville ended up trading 38 emails with Marks, all written as the book's main character, discussing the review, and eventually "the psychology of reading, Jorge Luis Borges, Thomas Pynchon and Twitter." Ed and Ben, the book's character, are now friends.
For the Times, it's the second time this week they've faced criticism for making mistakes, though this one had a happier ending. NBC News president Steve Capus accused the Times' of "sloppy journalism" after television writer Alessandra Stanley messed up recapping Ann Curry's final Today Show appearance. It also appears to not be the first time Maslin's messed something up in a review. Esquire writer Chris Jones tweeted that Maslin messed something up when she reviewed his book, too. It was a minor detail, just mixing up the Challenger and Columbia space shuttles in one part of her opening paragraph. "Books sometimes deserve bad reviews, including mine, maybe. But all books deserve careful readings by reviewers," Jones said. "For those of you who are or want to become critics, please remember: You're still reporters. You still have to get it right," he added.
Update: In a story about mistakes, I accidentally referred to Somerville's book as This Bright Future in paragraph four, when the title is actually This Bright River. It should be noted that This Bright River is a substantially better book than This Bright Future, and you should spend your money on the former instead of the latter.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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