I got my first review a few weeks ago. Discovered it quite by accident while googling my name. (C’mon, admit it. You google yours, too.) My body went all jangly when I saw it up on the screen. My baby suddenly was “out there,” exposed to the judgment of others who will “scrutinize your literary soul,” as a writer friend put it.
The review was positive and especially gratifying because the reviewer said my stories caused her to reflect on what could be done about specific social issues affecting women. One friend thought the review focused too much on those issues and not enough on the writing. Another said it didn’t acknowledge that some characters resisted patriarchal forces “with courage and intelligence.”
Their comments led to an “aha” moment for me: people were now discussing my stories as if they existed apart from me. I felt a little panicky. As though I’d turned my head for a moment and let my toddler run into a busy street. I hadn’t given much thought before that to how it would feel when my characters were released into a wider world, no longer to be interpreted and defended by me.
I did have an earlier taste of it, though, when my son read one of the stories in the collection. “I love the way you get us to feel sorry for Kyal at first,” he said, “but then make us see she has to make the decision she does for the sake of her people.”
“I do?” I said. I hadn’t meant to.
I asked if he thought Kyal would get to achieve her ambitions after the story ended. He said No, but that it was okay. When he explained why it was okay with him, I saw that my son, a proud former Marine, had read the story through the lens of Duty. To sacrifice individual wants for the greater good is the logical, moral choice for him. It made me realize that other readers will be reading through their own lenses, some of them quite different from mine.
It’s kind of scary but also kind of wonderful.