My review of Lori Ostlund’s After The Parade ran today in the Boston Globe.
I don’t like writing negative reviews. I try really hard to find something to like or admire in all the books I read, and I’m always mindful that the books I’m reviewing are the result of a lot of hard work, and time, and passion on the part of the author. Someday, I hope to publish my own work, and I try and put myself in the author’s shoes.
But I also don’t like it when I read a review that’s basically just a summary of the book and tiptoes around the fact that it’s flawed or has problems. I don’t think that’s necessarily fair to readers, who are going to invest their time and money in a book.
I do think there’s some value to negative reviews, even just as a benchmark. I can tell you what I don’t like about a book, and you might decide that maybe it’s actually something you would like. This isn’t an objective science, and the greater variety of opinions available, the better. The Goodreads page for After The Parade is full of people who got advance copies of the book and loved it. Maybe you’d be one of them. I like to check Goodreads every so often, just to gauge my own reactions to a book. In some cases, the reviews I read there can mellow my reaction, or maybe force me to reconsider my opinion before I commit it to newsprint. Honestly, though, more often than not, I find the reactions there to be a little too forgiving. Perhaps it’s a function of the NetGalley “free books in exchange for reviews” program.
After the Parade isn’t a complete disaster like, say, The Library at Mount Char. It just doesn’t really go anywhere interesting. Ostlund seems to mistake misery for meaningfulness and suffering for substance. It’s a torturous read, and does not reward the reader for their resilience.