January 26th, 2009


Ha Ha, People Are Things!

Below is an excellent example of why some content desperately needs to be edited before publication, especially book reviews by amateur reviewers who appear to have forgotten there's a difference between fantasy and reality. While I have no reason to believe the reviewer in this instance is some kind of bigoted monster -- I suspect this is just sloppy writing on her part -- the fact that I have gypsy blood in my heritage gave me significant pause when I read the first paragraph of her review. But you don't need to have the same heritage to partake in some good old fashioned discomfort your own self. In this fun party game, just substitute your own ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation wherever you see the word "gypsy"! (And I remind you, this is the review I'm quoting, a piece of critical non-fiction, not the novel itself.)

Gypsies. The mere word sends shivers down my spine. The image of once brightly painted, now worn and peeling, old-world caravans driven by cunning horse traders and colorfully garbed fortune-tellers is one that inspires an eerie mixture of awe and trepidation. The power surrounding the very legends themselves is an incredible testament to how deeply engrained the superstitions have become within us all over the ages. Despite their true magical abilities as witches and sorcerers, gypsies have cloaked themselves in an illusion lined with a vagabond patchwork of panhandling and swindling working to befuddle the world beyond their families and make outsiders extremely wary. Naive strangers never know what they might lose in their dealings with a caravan, their personal possessions or something far more valuable. However, one cannot deny the resonance of magic that surrounds gypsies, especially those of the old country. In Lisa Mannetti's debut novel The Gentling Box, she delves deep into the world of the gypsies of 19th century Hungary bringing to harsh, dark reality the brutal existence of one such caravan and the merciless supernatural power they possess.

True magical abilities as witches and sorcerers? Well shit, if I'd known I had supernatural powers, I'd have started using them a long time ago! The lottery? Mine! Your ridiculous sports car? Now a bright pink Big Wheel with sparkly wheels! Your bikini top? Invisible! I'M DRUNK WITH POWER!

Of course, in all seriousness, the reviewer is hardly talking about actual gypsies, she's talking about the representation of gypsies we often see in popular fiction, namely thieves, killers and mediums. But that's also my point. Nowhere does she make clear the distinction. Sometimes people forget other people aren't things, you know? It's one thing to say werewolves are scary and vicious because, well, werewolves don't exist. But gypsies do. Saying gypsies have magic powers, or that naive strangers will find themselves stolen from or murdered, only turns them into things. Plot devices and nothing more. They might as well be kobolds or stone giants. The fact that real people may exist behind the moniker is forgotten, either conveniently or inadvertently, and we already know what happens when folks forget people who are different from them are still people.

So please, reviewers, try to remember the difference between fantasy and reality when you're writing your next piece. It's not hard. Just read it over BEFORE hitting the send button and pay attention to the words you're using.