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Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

Review: The Folded Clock

The Folded Clock: A Diary - Heidi Julavits

May 7


Today I begin reading the new book by an author I adore. It's a non-fiction work in diary format, a departure from the author's normal tales. I look forward to my time in these pages. How often have I wanted to better know an artist whose work I love? This is my chance. I feel I am being invited to the author's residence for coffee and am allowed to ask anything. What insight will this author have? What are her deepest fears and most unspoken desires? What is she like when she isn't “being a writer”? I'm about to find out.


June 23


Today I finished trudging through the book I started last month. While my opinion of the author's talents regarding writing has not changed, my opinion of the author herself most definitely has. I had stated that I felt like I was being invited to the author's residence for coffee; I was wrong. While reading this book—this diary—I was transported to the author's residence, but it was for a formal dinner party, the kind where you feel awkward the entire time, wondering if everyone is staring at you because you put your fork down at the wrong angle on your plate. But no one at this party was paying me any attention, because the author was the center of the show. That's okay. It's what I expected. I wanted to know more about her. But what I'd hoped for was an intelligent conversation full of insight, humor, and heart. What I got instead was an intelligently-written drunken tirade. You know the dinner party where the hostess holds her wine glass at an angle and tells you about the time she urinated in a plane's airsickness bag and constantly reminds you how she's happy and stable? How she's glad she cheated on her first husband with her second, but keeps bringing it up every few minutes as if it haunts her? How she's proud to teach her eight-year-old daughter how to look more “fuckable”? How life is great because she spends the summer in Maine *sip* the winter in New York *sip* how she's been to Italy *sip* Germany *sip* France *sip* Morocco *sip*? That's the dinner party I just came home from.


I feel bad saying such things, because I really do appreciate this author's talent. While others have bashed her fiction (her four major works of fiction average a rating of 3.08 on Goodreads), called her writing juvenile and stilted, and written her off as an untalented hack, I have stood by her side. I have defended her brilliance. Ironically, it is this most recent work that maintains a rating that borders four stars. Apparently, I am in the minority.


What is it about this diary that others love? Is it the anecdote-laden short passages that are about nothing and everything? Is it the gossip? Is it the extravagant lifestyle? The constant abandon the author shows? Or the author's curious love of the reality television show, The Bachelor? Whatever it is, I want none of it.


I think what irritated me most is how the author repeatedly mentioned her woes and talked about her inability to buy things she wanted. In fact, a huge chunk of this book is about eBay shopping. When combined with her many mentions of her foreign travels and her dinner parties with elite artists, this book seems to be about the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Maybe the author wishes for more than second-hand Internet shopping. Maybe travels to Europe are not enough. But as someone who knows what “starving artist” means, as someone who gave up full-time employment and security to write a novel and stay home with my kids, as someone who can't afford a vacation outside of the state of Kansas, and as someone who saves and saves and saves in order to buy $50 shoes from Famous Footwear, I find the author's complaints about $500 boots repulsive. There are much bigger concerns in the world, but the writer seems unaware or uncaring.


I hope the writer can forgive me. I did love the cadence and beauty of many of the sentences in this work. Maybe there is some brilliance in the parallel drawn between the juvenile diary of an adolescent girl and the juvenile diary of a middle-aged woman. I am still a fan. But my dearest author, I do not wish to be your friend. I hope you will continue to write many wonderful works of fiction, but please do not invite me again for a dinner party. I will come to your readings. I will continue to defend your novels. But friends we cannot be. And please know that your confusion of the Library of Congress classification with Dewey Decimal is unforgivable. For everything else, I'll accept apology in the form of a new novel.