Monday, May 17, 2021

Someone is wrong on the Internet

Like any moderately sane person I have had to come to accept the reality that not only will there be unhinged, greedy, power mad, pathological liars with deranged, hate filled theories, but there will be wide swaths of foolish people who will eagerly vote for and support these people as they seek full control over society. 

But all this is mere politics. And outside of millions of people dying in Pandemics and genocides, outside of devastating corruption, brutal systemic oppressions, and environmental degradation so severe it may destroy the human experiment on our planet as we know it, it barely affects us at all.  

However when this tendency towards dangerous incoherency invades the Amazon book review page I simply have to put my foot down.

I am referring in particular to the number one most helpful review on Amazon regarding the beautiful, National Book Award winning masterpiece by Louis Sachar, called Holes.

Now Holes, for those of you have not read it, or at least seen the movie, which is good enough to do in a pinch if you must, is a brilliant humanist confection made of American Tall Tale, magical realism, and social critique, touching on curses, race relations in American history, corruption in the American prison system, family legacy, and most of all what it means to be a good person. Also it's just a fabulous story.

Holes received 4.8 out of 5 stars in the course of well over 12,000 reviews on Amazon. But when I look it up I will find at the top of all its written reviews a two star assessment called "Contains Spoilers". It includes 81 people listing the review as "helpful". These "helpful" votes are, I suppose, what puts it at the top of the reviews, first to be seen by most people looking into the book.

The review "Contains Spoilers" is a strange and harsh review. It starts off scoffing at a criminal justice system that would sentence a first-time offender to a year and a half term in a juvenile detention camp. It concludes that critique with the curious "No wonder kids grow up thinking the justice system is unfair." 

Yes, it is all their reading of Holes

That actually wouldn't be so bad, I mean, because... the justice system is... unfair.

That's not actually an opinion.

From there the review focuses on the lack of realism in the text, complaining about dried up lake beds and digging up buried treasure like a person inveighing against tornadoes in The Wizard of Oz for behaving nothing like real tornadoes behave. Louis Sachar's absurdly intricate and magisterial use of coincidence also comes in for a tongue lashing as if he was trying to write Middlemarch and failed.

From here we follow the review from its condemnation of a non realistic book for being not realistic, into an attack on the book for being unrealistic when it's being realistic; the swift, terrible cutting down of a black man when he puts a foot out of his allowed role, the misuse of power in America's justice system and its outsized effect on the poor, and the effect of gender inequality, race, and a broken heart on a person's life.

And that's where we are left off in this review. The review ends abruptly, missing anything remotely like a concluding paragraph or sentence. Every time I read the review I find myself looking for a "continue" button, finding only instead a "read less" button.  But its points seem simple enough that I could conclude it for you: 

Holes is a ridiculously unrealistic book, full of made up stuff, and it says some bad things about America, which seems very unfair because the truth is false.

Honestly I could likely have just blown off this absurd review, but those 81 "helpful" nods ate at me. I could not rest. I dwelled on it. I regretted reading it. I tried to forget it. I reported the review for inappropriate content. Finally I wrote a long critique of the review on my extremely popular blog "clerkmanifesto" (yes, this is it right now!), and I stewed over the review, reading and rereading it, my anger growing all the time.

And then all of the sudden it hit me:

It was a satire!

Of course. This crazy review is way too absurd and ridiculous to be real. It's a caricature of a review! They're having a laugh! 

I felt so foolish when I realized! It's a satire! Good one! It's a satire.

Isn't it?

It's all getting so hard to tell...


  1. I read Holes a long time ago, when it first came out. I really don't remember it; just a fuzzy sense of "that was odd." You have convinced me to read it again.

    1. I hope you like it better this time then. Maybe if you think of it more as a tall tale? It really is beautifully put together.


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