New Review: Gail Godwin’s Unfinished Desires

My review of Gail Godwin’s Unfinished Desires appears in today’s Chicago Sun-Times. Here’s the first paragraph:

Over the past half-century, the extreme religious right, as documented in Michelle Goldberg’s Kingdom Coming, has transformed certain fidelities about faith into snaky traducements that resemble a spastic Tex Avery cartoon. This surrender of common sense has sullied the more sober connections between spirituality and American life, creating an exploratory reticence among novelists that has softly settled into the cultural berm. But Gail Godwin, one of American literature’s best-kept secrets, has quietly eked out a thoughtful bypass in which orthodoxy and human folly are often entangled.

You can also listen to my recent interview with Godwin on The Bat Segundo Show.


  1. Now that I’ve read (and suffered through) the review of Godwin’s novel, I would have this to say:

    (1) Let me paraphrase George Orwell by saying, “never use a longer word instead of a shorter word.”

    (2) Abandon the passion for empty abstractions and concentrate instead on concrete details.

    (3) The keys to good writing are simple: be clear, be concise, and be mindful of your audience. (The reviewer receives a failing grade on all three counts.)

  2. I see that you are a miserable adjunct in the University of West Florida English Department who is not particularly adventurous in his reading tastes. To which I reply: If you don’t wish to use your brain and comprehend the “abstractions” that you have failed to parse as concrete truths, you can do one of two things:

    (1) Not read me.
    (2) Throw yourself off a skyscraper.

    I trust that language is clear enough for you.

  3. Note that I critiqued the writing rather than the writer. I am sorry that you were personally offended by my critique. Your harsh (personal) response shows that my critique was not well received. I think we could discuss the review sensibly (with a focus on some specifics), but I suspect you are not open to that kind of discussion. To the extent that I have offended you, I again apologize. To the extent that your attack upon me is offensive, I will anticipate and accept your apology.

  4. Not offended at all. But you did indeed single out the writer by honing in on the style. It seemed perfectly sensible to escalate your apparent suffering to the next natural step: suicide. But I’m a reasonable guy. And I’m happy to respond to specific observations within the review. The thing is: we’re essentially discussing a difference in stylistic tastes. I’m not interested in writing reviews adhering to the style you advocate. That doesn’t interest me and it clearly doesn’t interest you. Which is perfectly fine. If you dig Ben Jonson, by all means, fill up your plate and sup. But prescriptive stylistic criticism in the James Wood mode is something that I never practice and something I’m not particularly interested in receiving. For other criticisms that take Updike’s First Rule of Reviewing into account, I’m always happy to listen and dish out, when necessary.

  5. May I offer a couple of final comments?

    First, I am an adjunct (by choice rather than necessity), but I am not miserable (either about it or at it). In fact, I enjoy teaching, and both the university and the students seem satisfied with my contributions.

    Second, I am not suicidal; in any event, there are no skyscrapers in the region, so it would be impossible for me to act upon your suggestion. I could, I suppose, fling myself off a pier into the nearby Gulf of Mexico, but I am fearful of water.

    Third, style is always “fair game” for analysis and criticism. As a component of composition, style (i.e., diction, syntax, etc.) is the goal-sensitive medium through which the writer seeks to communicate most effectively to the audience. Different writers have different styles; the sensible writers are shrewd about adopting a style that achieves the goal: good communication.

    Fourth, I apologize again for having offended you. Your writing style, though, leads me (as a teacher of writing and literature) to make one final suggestion: simplify and clarify.

  6. boy some one ure hated mother potts

    what was the deal with the two betfriends tilldy and maud uch at the end wih \man chracters, how come the cousions never laid ees on each othr untl the 9th grade and thenn neveragain. IS GAIL GODWIN maude?????

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