Alice Hoffman: The Most Immature Writer of Her Generation

alicehoffmanI’ve seen wild narcissism from authors in reaction to a review, but Alice Hoffman’s recent tweeting takes the cake. The Boston Globe‘s Roberta Silman reviewed Hoffman’s latest book, The Story Sisters. Silman wrote that Hoffman’s latest novel “lacks the spark of the earlier work.” The main character is “incredibly passive and doesn’t seem to have any of the normal anxiety of a mother in a time and place where hormones are raging, drugs are rife, and dangers abound.” In fact, Silman even commends Hoffman for one section of the book “described with real skill and precision” and notes “some wonderful passages” near the close.

This review is hardly nasty or vicious at all. And Hoffman must be a truly sheltered and out-of-touch writer indeed to consider this easily ignored slap on the wrist some ineffable form of damnation. Silman’s review and Hoffman’s disproportionate reaction is the intellectual equivalent of confusing a few droplets of water hitting your skin with a torturous session of waterboarding. To call Hoffman’s reaction histrionic is an understatement.

Silman’s review is a considered piece written by someone who didn’t take to Hoffman’s latest. The kind of review that any reasonable author would walk away from and say, “Oh well. Maybe she’ll dig the next novel.” I mean, it’s not as if Silman declared Alice Hoffman “the worst writer of her generation” or anything.

But since Hoffman has publicly posted Silman’s phone number and private email address, I think it’s safe to say that Alice Hoffman is certainly the most immature writer of her generation. One expects such behavior from a whiny brat in a boarding school who didn’t get the latest iPhone, not a 57-year-old bestselling author who won’t have to beg for a writing assignment or a hot meal anytime soon.

Hoffman has gone out of her way to invade Silman’s privacy. And maybe this is a desperate form of publicity or a desperate cry for attention. But I’m with Ron Charles on this. You write a sharp, witty response instead. Or even better, you develop a modicum of humility. (That, and the ability to spell Verizon correctly.)

[UPDATE: Alice Hoffman has deleted her Twitter account and apologizes.]


  1. “This review is hardly nasty or vicious at all.”

    Does that mean it is slightly nasty or vicious?

    I followed your link and read the review, and although I would not call it nasty, it does have a rather condescending tone and I thought the last paragraph read as a not too subtle shot at Hoffman’s readers for enjoying her work in general- whether it was intended that way or not.

    I have not actually read her work before, but this book was on my list to read, and remains there, regardless of the review.

  2. I thought exactly the same thing when I saw Hoffman’s manic, livid tweets this morning! My immediate reaction (and I like Hoffman, but I have been disappointed by her recent work) was to read the review in question. Note to upset writer: maybe don’t say you got a bad review, because then more people will go and read it?
    Anyway–I thought the reviewer was totally right. Completely accurate. Hoffman is a bestselling author. She should *earn* that money and fame by producing consistently good work.

  3. As with most of life, there are two sides to this story. While I agree that Hoffman’s knee-jerk tweet was poorly considered, I also understand that her upset centers on more than a negative review (a writer of her experience should be immune to negativity by now). If you read her entire tweet stream, you’ll see that she’s really upset by Silman’s having given away major plot points.

    I am a Hoffman reader, having read almost everything she’s written, and was very disappointed that Silman’s review did not warn me of spoilers ahead (as many reviewers will warn). I have not read The Story Sisters yet, though I just purchased it last week, and now know that a major character dies and this motivates the plot direction.

    If professional critics/reviewers are going to continue publishing paid reviews for news organizations, they are going to have to be held to a higher standard than we blog reviewers. And while I think there is a place for both amateur blog reviewers and professional critics, Silman’s review does wander toward a “book report” format as Hoffman so ineffectively ranted.

    Two rights = Wrong situation (and now I am spoiled for my weekend read!)

  4. My opinion on this is you as an author or a publicist send a work in at your own risk to be read and evaluated for a public opinion piece on how the reviewer personally likes or dislikes the work given. It may not be of your own opinion. The reviewer seemed to say how she felt about the book and gave a good description of the plot and goings on and why she felt these things did or did not make her like or dislike parts of the work and the work in whole. You may not like the opinion of the reviewer but what would you have her do email you and say “oh, I really didn’t like this what do you want me to do?” It makes no sense there is an ethical responsibility to be honest with your readers on whether or not you liked the work. It’s childish to react for a lack of a better term butthurt because someone doesn’t like your book you sent them.

  5. Anonymouse: I generally credit, but not this time. Why not devote your energies to every bookstore and news outlet using that especially common Hoffman photo without credit?

  6. I just wrote an open letter to Alice Hoffman at my blog about this and totally agree with you on this one,Ed. Her behavior is outrageous and if her main complaint is with the editor of the paper about giving away too much of the plot(which I’m not crazy about in general but it’s no worse than most of the movie trailers they put out these days),why not give out the editor’s e-mail instead of Ms. Silman’s?(the phone number is out of line,either way)

    It looks as if Hoffman’s Twitter page is down or taken off,due to this and if it goes back up,I hope Ms. Hoffman issues an apology.

  7. Tasses, you seem to want Roberta Silman to be a professional book reviewer on one hand, and on the other hand to do “spoiler warnings,” like a book blogger, on the other hand. Which is it?

    Suggesting that Roberta Silman is somehow unprofessional is just bizarre–she’s a very distinguished writer with a career at least as long as Hoffman’s.

    Now, there may be some validity to the charge of condescension; I think it’s often a poor idea to assign mainstream fiction to literary fiction writers for review for just that reason. But unprofessionalism really isn’t on.

  8. Go Alice Hoffman! The pretension with which book reviewers and critics write too often feels as it comes from their own inability to create a book with something important to say. In their bitterness, they must tear apart honest fiction. How unfortunate that women are ugliest to each other. Everything she criticized was exactly what was right with Ms. Hoffman work.

  9. Mary S.

    So it’s okay for an author who doesn’t like a review to post the reviewer’s home phone number and encourage her fans to call and complain? Give me a fucking break. Alice Hoffman is a bestselling writer who, despite ever-dwindling review coverage, still gets reviewed in the major papers. She’s in that extraordinarily rare company of writers who can earn money off their writing. If she wants to spout off about a negative review, fine, she can go right ahead, even though it usually makes the author look like a baby…but to post the reviewer’s home phone and encourage her readers to call and complain is prideful at best and harassment at worst. If her ego is so fragile, she shouldn’t work in a medium that puts her work out for public criticism. But since you’re okay with Hoffman’s tactics, Mary S., perhaps your phone number should be posted so that those who disagree with you can call and harass you as well. Would you welcome that abuse? I doubt it.

  10. It shouldn’t matter whether or not the review contained too many plot points, Hoffman behaved badly. It is inexcusable for Hoffman to encourage others in the harassment of the reviewer. By providing an unlisted private phone number over the course of 25 rage filled tweets, Hoffman became a bully. It is despicable behavior for anyone, especially an author of her stature. I suspect the fallout from Hoffman’s tweets will be much worse for her then that one review.

  11. Julia… Although I am unfamiliar with Ms. Silman’s bio., I believed that she was a professional reviewer (ie: someone who gets paid to print reviews in major book/publishing outlets). I really didn’t intend to imply that professional reviewers should EVER print spoilers, but if they are going to print them, I definitely think they should warn the readers.

    Again …
    To me, a professional reviewer has some sort of degree in English Lit. and is held to a higher standard of critical analysis than an amateur reviewer (like book bloggers). While I’ve argued many times that there is a place for both sorts, it is interesting to watch how the internet is changing everything about publishing, including reviews.

    I see Hoffman did the right thing today and I hope Ms. Silman will lay her rightful anger aside and consider how spoiling a story for the reader might not be the best way to professionally review a book in the future.

  12. What an immature woman! If you can’t take the ridicule, then don’t write!…it’s rediculous how childish and spoiled she acted. How can a grown woman who’s miracoulously made a name for herself in the world of writing behave like a little girl? I hope she learns her lesson, though I doubt it. Her apology was half-assed, and she did not sound like she regretted her actions at all. I swear, my faith in humanity is being sucked away, little by little because of people like this. If an adult cannot be looked up to, then what we’re teaching our children are lies.

  13. Tasses:

    Sorry, but I’m still struggling to see the “other side” here — you talk a lot about Silman’s supposed lack of professionalism, but you don’t seem to get just how irresponsible (and potentially dangerous) posting someone’s contact details online without their consent can be. I’d respectfully suggest that if someone at Hoffman’s publisher or agent’s did the same to her, there would be hell to pay — with compound interest. And quite rightly so.

  14. A little behind, I just found out about this, and was surprised this kind of thing hasn’t been a problem before in the literary community. I think authors are better behaved than they used to be…no more Hunter or Hemingway or Mailer to be inappropriate.

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