Well, last weekend’s Wall Street Journal review of my book is now history. I am grateful that, for the most part, it is favorable, though it is hard for me to imagine why the editors should have assigned a book like A North Country Life to a celebrity chef.
Said chef has a vacation place in southern Vermont, which, increasingly, is a domain of vacation places, but perhaps even so tenuous a geographical link is what earned him his chore. Now I have lived in upper New England for well over forty years, and in parts of that New England quite different from those just north of the Massachusetts line. So I did, I confess, find myself a bit nettled that he should have challenged my sense of old-time New England character and behavior. After all, from the earliest fifties, which was before, I surmise, the reviewer was born, I knew those old people, especially ones from northeastern Maine, in a way he simply could not have.
My friend, the poet Marvin Bell, once said, “We all know how often a critic reads a book./ Less than once.” When I considered, for instance, that this particular critic had me living not in Newbury but in Newton, Vermont (a nonexistent town, I believe), I was ever so slightly bugged. But this was merely a cosmetic carelessness. When he suggested that, as an alternative to mourning the generation of old folks I encountered as a child– men and women who’d be 120 or so if they yet lived– I chose a barroom, I was plain exasperated. Since the essay in question is founded very specifically on my finding barrooms and alcohol the opposite of valid alternatives for me, I felt I was being twitted for saying something I had not said, just as elsewhere in the review I felt I was being twitted for not saying things I never intended to say.
I sound a bit more miffed here than in fact I feel. The chef in question is patently a superb writer himself, and again, one comes away from his article with a more kindly than unkindly disposition toward A North Country Life. And for a poet to have work of his, whatever the genre, noticed in the nation’s most widely circulated newspaper...well, I should govern my whining, expressing, rather, my thanks for any such sort of attention.