It’s not me, it’s you

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{ The pair sits facing each other in a neutral public place. The novel is Dance with Snakes by Horacio Castellanos Moya, translated from Spanish by Lee Paula Springer. The book reviewer looks awkward, waiting for an ambulance to go by before beginning to speak. }

You probably know why we’re here. We need to end this. I’m sorry, but we just aren’t compatible. Maybe it’s me. I was so excited to find a work of magical realism by a contemporary Latin-American author, that I never considered if my expectations were realistic. You seemed so promising; an unemployed citizen of a capital city has an encounter with a mysterious homeless man that leads to a series of increasingly bizarre events. We had all these mutual interests: class dynamics; non-human characters; dimensions of power, but it wasn’t enough to bring us together. I think we want different things out of this.

Stylistically, you came across as a hybrid between a horror movie and a newscast someone put on YouTube.com. The idea of using a sociopathic first person narrator is interesting, but I found the absence of context or motivation for the character more irritating than edgy. Also, for a novella of 100-odd pages, the incorporation of carnage wasn’t exactly creative. Honestly, I find you cold and flat; I don’t feel like you cared about my needs as a reader at all. You introduced all of the characters, got me intrigued, and then pulled us apart before I could connect to anyone or anything in the story. I understand that you’re using alienation effects so that I’ll be more conscious of your social commentary — but in this case it wasn’t effective. Maybe you think that these devices make you sound brilliant, but to me they come off as pretentious.

Anyway, I respect what you’re trying to do. You’ve got a great style; the writing is technically strong and the plot has a compelling flow. The thing is, I’m at a stage in my life where I want more from a book than an interesting concept — it has to work on other levels too. I feel like you have strengths that I can’t appreciate. Maybe if there wasn’t the translation between us or if we’d met at another time . . . maybe things would be different. But we’ll never know.

Please know that I will never regret the time we spent together. This is hard. I don’t want this review to get in the way of you finding someone else. There are other readers who would be thrilled to have you — they are out there. It’s not fair to you to pretend that we have this deep connection. I can give you credit for experimenting with style, but then what happens if I come across a book which succeeds where you haven’t? One I can actually love? If I want my positive reviews to mean anything, then I just can’t afford to be insincere.

In the mean time, I still feel like I owe you something. So, this is what I’ll do: I’ll leave my copy at the office of the Manitoban for anyone who wants to give you a try. It can’t hurt, right? Good luck