NYT pans novel - because critic mixed up two characters

A lot of you have probably already seen the Salon piece about the author whose book was panned by the New York Times.

The part that most interested me was how, after the fact, an editor began an email correspondence, not with the writer, but with his character. Talk about meta-fiction!

I thought it might be fun to make a real email address for Ben, though, and to let readers email him, especially if they had questions about the puzzles in the book. Ben is a kind of wayfaring pothead version of Will Shortz, and likes to make up riddles and puzzles here and there. He sees life in terms of games. Most of the riddles and puzzles are answered within the book, and none are crucial for the story. Still, thinking it would be amusing – a meta-game for readers – I went to Gmail and made Ben’s address and posted it on my website. I invited people to write him if they had questions about anything in the book.

In the six months the address was up on my site, one person wrote to Ben. It was my friend Hannah.

But when I logged in to Ben’s account on that Monday after the Maslin review, badly hung over, I found a new email awaiting me.

It was not from Hannah. It was from an editor at the New York Times.

The subject line was “Did you get hit on the head?”

Here it is: (Our exchange is published with his permission)

Dear Mr. Hanson,

Given the vagaries of fictional life, I understand that you might not be able to answer this question, which has come up after one of our readers read the review of “This Bright River” that we published. But – in the prologue, are you the person who is hit on the head?

-Ed Marks, Culture Desk



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