Listen to me read the below here:
C and I were on the phone when an email popped into my inbox. My debut novel, The Border of Paradise, is coming out in two-and-a-half months, and the communication between myself, my editor, and the PR manager is frequent these days; while skimming this particular missive, I interrupted C with a yelp. Apparently, while Kirkus and Publishers Weekly–two giants in the industry when it comes to reviews–don’t tend to release their thoughts on a book until 4 to 6 weeks before the publication, mine had apparently made its debut on the Kirkus website. My editor mentioned that the review was a good one, but said nothing else about it. I immediately googled the review and found it, but scrolled down before I could see any of its contents.
“Please look at the review,” I begged, “and then tell me what it says. But only if it’s good. I mean, I want to know if it’s bad, but if it’s bad, let me down gently.”
“What is it I’m supposed to tell you?” C asked, pulling up the review.
“Just sum up what it says.”
I picked at my fingers while he read the review, which was only a few paragraphs long. I tried not to think about what would happen if Kirkus ended up totally savaging my book, which I’d devoted a big chunk of my life to; reviewers are human, and humans have their own preferences. I told myself that no matter what the review said, I was not going to attempt to withdraw the publication of my book. I say this jokingly. Sort of.
C finally said, “I think you’ll like it.”
“Yeah?” I asked.
So I read the review. I’ve read the review so many times at this point that it’s hard to recall what my first impressions of it were. Mostly, I was looking to see if they’d said anything particular nasty about my novel, which they didn’t. Only after I figured out that the review was, on the whole, a positive one that I began to feel delighted. It even ends with a perfect pull quote: “Gothic in tone, epic in ambition, and creepy in spades.” According to the review, my book isn’t for everyone—and that’s fine. What surprised me the most was how spot-on the reviewer had been about what appealed to me, the writer. If I hadn’t been the author of Border, I’d still be putting it on pre-order after reading that review.
I was so proud of the review, in fact, that I printed it out and brought it to my psychiatric appointment last week. My psychiatrist has seen me through some of my worst episodes of mental illness, and is as proud as a mama when it comes to my accomplishments. While I rushed to meet her at the double doors, we both noticed a man raising his voice at the reception area.
“I hurt my foot on the bus,” he said. “I need—I need something.”
The receptionist, who was behind glass, couldn’t see his foot, and therefore didn’t realize how bad the injury was, but Dr. M and I could see it—well Dr. M could; I was averting my gaze. The receptionist suggested that the man go clean up in the bathroom. Dr. M, her voice lowering to worry, told him that he needed to go to the emergency room.
“Where’s the emergency room?” he asked.
She told him the appropriate intersection.
“That far!” exclaimed the man. “God!”
“He needs a nurse,” Dr. M told the receptionist.
At my appointment, Dr. M oooh’d and aaah’d over the Kirkus review. She flipped through the issue of the Believer that I’d brought her, which features the best essay I’ve ever written—one that took over a year to write.
I told her about my money worries regarding the experimental treatments I’m doing or am about to do for my late-stage Lyme, and she pointed at the Kirkus review.
“That’ll help, right?” she said. “Money from the book?”
I laughed. “No,” I said. “There is very little money in that.”
“Well, I’m so happy for you,” she said. “So proud of you. I’m practically in tears.”
Approximately two years ago, I was so sick that I was on the waiting list for electroconvulsive therapy, also known as ECT or shock treatment. I smiled at her, but inside I was shrieking with fear; being back in the psychiatric department was making me panic, as I knew it would when I saw the appointment in my calendar. Mental illness and health may be my journalistic and essayistic beats, but I still don’t like to be reminded of the worst times in my psychological life.
As she walked me out of the office area, she saw that the man with the foot injury was being put in a wheelchair by two paramedics. There were great gouts of blood everywhere on the dingy carpet. “It’s a really bad injury,” she said to me. “He must have severed something.” And Dr. M brought me around the other way, to the other exit, so that I wouldn’t be in the way of the paramedics.
I stood outside, waiting for my ride; while I waited, the paramedics came out of the double doors with the injured man in a wheelchair. I watched them put him in an ambulance.
I kept thinking about how the receptionist behaved with no urgency toward this man, and how much of that was due to the fact that he appeared disheveled and was a patient in a psychiatric department.
Another line from my Kirkus review: “Wang’s deeply uncomfortable and somber novel is soaked with bizarre details.”
They took the bleeding man away.