The problem with The Tiger’s Wife is it’s unreadable: turgid, overwritten, self-indulgent and in need of a heavy editorial hand, not to mention about 10 years more life experience to give the two-dimensional characters, including an irritatingly earnest narrator, a bit of zap up their winsome asses. It’s polished. Obreht can churn out a (very long, overwritten) sentence. It’s competent. It’s a book.*
I originally planned on patiently picking Fowler’s “arguments” apart, but it’s just not worth the time: there’s nothing to dissect in this remarkably incoherent screed. The essay is a study in bitterness, in which the only weapon is condescension.
Fowler’s main point seems to be that Tea Obreht should be more like Ruth Fowler, who has a very colorful resume. Of course, “life experience” and “colorful resume” are very different (and, to be honest, I don’t even really understand what “life experience” means, though I’m “only” 23.) Fowler’s argument also rests on a particularly romantic (and adolescent) set of presuppositions, which are best summed up by her conclusion: “Oh how I long for the days of writers like Nabokov: those who hadn’t spent five years learning how to put a fucking sentence together, but instead wrote with their guts.” Fowler’s essay, which was clearly written from the gut, is proof that this isn’t always a good thing. More importantly, this counter-history, this fetishization of art, does an injustice to Nabokov, who spent his whole career studying other writers and working tirelessly to put a good sentence together. But I’m devoting more attention to this than it deserves. If there was an Orange Prize for bullshit this essay would make the long list.
*This article came out a couple of weeks ago, but I stumbled upon it fairly recently and couldn’t keep my damn mouth shut.