A while back I sent the mss of “And It’s Only Love” to a publisher I know, wondering if she would like to publish it. She sent it to an in-house reader for an opinion. This is how that reader responded —
“And It’s Only Love tells the story of a romance between an American and a Slovakian, set in central Europe. It’s well written and packed with thoughtful and intelligent details. The pacing is slow and subtle, but the reader is brought into scenes through great atmospheric descriptions and good dialogue.
“However, it doesn’t seem to have a strong enough narrative arc. I think this is the result of two different problems: Danika as a full character on her own, and the story’s lack of parts that make up a whole:
“Danika lacks interiority or her own perspective, and because of this, at times, she seems like merely a sexual/emotional projection of Paul’s desires. This gives the story a distinctly male perspective on the relationship—which is quite interesting in itself—but as a result doesn’t give Danika, or therefore their relationship, enough ambivalence or complexity.
“The story contains a list of the places they go, what they drink, how they have sex, and how they love each other. Merritt often captures a perfect and exemplary gesture of love or insecurity. These details are interesting and well written, but there seems to be a lack of signals or clues for the reader to know what to do with them, or why they should be invested in the couple. It needs more of those parts that make a story engaging—tension, minor conflicts, and build-up—so when she cheats on him, there would be more of an emotional consequence.”
In other words, rejecting it.
Here is the compliment. This is a virtually perfect description of one of the finest novels of the 20th century, written by one of the finest novelists still living — James Salter’s “A Sport and a Pastime.” Had that novel been offered for an evaluation by this in-house reader, it would also have obviously been rejected. There is not a literate writer alive who would not hasten to say that Salter’s novel is one of the finest and most perfect they have ever read (many such writers make this claim on the jacket).
In the first paragraph of the “review,” change Slovakian (which is not a word, actually; it is Slovak) to French; change Central Europe to France. Where Danika, put in Anne-Marie. Where it says Merritt, plug in Salter.
By the way, I have been a writer for 40 years. Can someone explain to me what a “narrative arc” is? Sounds like a workshop rule I must have missed.
When a writer encounters a reader who describes your work in terms that apply almost identically with one of the finest American novels ever written, then rejection has a very sweet taste indeed. (One may assume without hesitation that this reader would have also rejected Salter. Stories like this are legion in publishing.)
I love writing … I hate publishing. Publishing as a process is just not smart enough to understand the writers who depend on them. A dependency that needs to be broken.
But I do thank you publisher reader for the beautiful compliment.