So The Dead Women of Juárez is now available in Germany and the user reviews on Amazon.de have been pouring in. You can see them by clicking through, but in case you don’t read/speak German, I will give you the basic rundown of what you’ll find there.
The first thing I have to say is that Amazon’s German customers are serious about reviews. Pretty much all the reviews there are huge, much lengthier and detailed than the average review on Amazon.com. Sometimes this just means more word-space to say negative things, but by and large I think the criticisms of the book are fair.
I’m pleased to say that the majority of the reviews are four stars or above, which is good. There are a significant number of three-star reviews (and one nasty two-star review), though, and the problems of the three-star readers can be boiled down to a couple salient points. First, they didn’t care for the level of violence in the book. Second, they didn’t like my use of Spanish language.
Unfortunately there’s not a whole lot I can, or would, do about the violence. Ciudad Juárez is an incredibly violent city and the crimes with which the book concerns itself are brutal in the extreme. I would be doing the real dead women of Juárez a disservice if I failed to portray that realistically. I don’t begrudge these people their opinion, but I’ll single out one reviewer who said, basically, “I don’t like reading about violence in my books.” So why read this one? It’s kind of about violence.
The second point about the Spanish is well taken. I’ll admit that I was indulging my inner Cormac McCarthy when writing some of the dialogue for The Dead Women, and though I didn’t go to All the Pretty Horses levels, it’s clear a certain portion of my readers were uncomfortable with it. They will be happy to know that I’ve dialed back the Spanish significantly in books that follow, with Tequila Sunset having about the average amount of Spanish I now write into my text. Read it to see what I mean.
Probably the biggest disappointment of all was the review I got in Der Spiegel. My book was criticized for having slack pacing and unformed characters, which always hurts. I got a real sense of where the reviewer stood, though, when he recommended Roberto Bolaño’s 2666, a monstrous tome that folds the feminicidios of a Ciudad Juárez-like city into its sprawling narrative. One thing my writing is not, and probably never will be, is literary fiction. Anyone looking for that from me is always going to be let down. Sorry.
So what have we learned? Well, we’ve learned that my writing is not to all tastes, which we kind of knew already. I’ve pretty much resigned myself to the fact that some people are going to get what I’m trying to do and some aren’t. Both perspectives are valid. Do I wish more of the German readers came back with the kind of glowing reviews I received from readers in the UK? Absolutely. But so long as the criticisms are even-handed, I accept them and learn from them. That’s all I can do.