Okay, Dave Zeltserman – You’re Off Notice

Oh, brother. We’ve been doing this blog for three days and I’m already in trouble.

Two of you may recall the post I wrote a few days ago, in which I put Needham author Dave Zeltserman on notice. His book, Pariah, addresses, among other things, what I referred to as “the townie/yuppie tug-of-war” in Southie. I pointed out that I haven’t read the book, but still used it as a launching pad for criticism of the ways in which various types of media portray the neighborhood.

And yes, I also accused him of being a second-rate Dennis Lehane and masturbating to photographs of Whitey Bulger.

Somehow, Mr Zeltserman, or someone posing as Mr Zeltserman, located our little website here (I don’t know how, because if you Google “Dave Zeltserman Pariah” it doesn’t come up, at least in the first 20 pages), and left this comment on the entry:

I stumbled across this, found it interesting that you’re able to comment/critique my book without reading it but simply getting all your information from one review. First, the book is set mostly in places like Brighton, Newton, New Hampshire + New York, with few scenes in South Boston. Second, the book is more a satire on publishing and the celebrity nature of this country than it is a crime novel. Third, if I were only allowed to write about Needham + people who lived in Needham I’d be writing very boring books. Fourth, maybe you should actually read my book before going all ape shit. If you did, maybe you’d end up agreeing with the Washington Post that it was one of the best books of 2009.

And boy, do I feel silly about that. The reason why I’m writing this post and not just e-mailing Mr Zeltserman on the sly is not entirely because I’m interested in offering a public mea culpa (just as Dave Zeltserman doesn’t know who I really am, I don’t know if it’s really Dave Zeltserman who wrote the comment), but also because I’ve learned something about the internet which I think is pertinent to what we’re trying to accomplish at Sugar Shack and, indeed, people’s blogging behavior in general. That lesson can be summed up as such: even if you’re just a hack who writes things on a blog that, in all likelihood, only people you know will read, you might still want to think about practicing some journalistic integrity. It wasn’t fair for me to make judgments about Mr Zeltserman’s novel, much less his character, without having read his book.

That said, I’m still wary of the treatment that the crime fiction genre tends to give Southie. This is a personal issue. Although I feel no qualms generally about inducing conclusions from a source like Pariah apropos of the public-at-large’s attitude toward the neighborhood, my impetus for doing that comes mainly from my experience dealing with the various stereotypes, which I won’t enumerate, that have been assigned to me as the result of my accent, my sensibilities, and the location of my upbringing. It’s frustrating to have to constantly address this state of affairs, and I admit that occasionally I turn to stereotyping the suburbanites who are most often the people who make assumptions about me. I don’t really feel bad about that given the circumstances, but since I’ve directed my attack this time at the product of someone’s effort, I’ve been forced to take another look at my own attitude. I’m a writer too, Dave, and I know where you’re coming from.

Since I haven’t read Mr Zeltserman’s book, I don’t know for sure whether it enforces stereotypes. I will say, however, that the fact that, according to the author, Pariah largely doesn’t take place in Southie is irrelevant, books set in Needham need not be boring, and I’m not sure one could characterize my tone in the post as “ape shit,” although I understand, Dave, why you would use that term.

I’ve always thought that the best way to confront the questions of identity that come with a changing Southie is to drop the reactionary “yuppies get out” approach and engage in a dialogue that might help us all gain a measure of mutual understanding. Forgive me for being sentimental. Nevertheless my reaction, into which I’ve put some thought, to the myriad of Southie mobster stories I’ve encountered is this: they might not have been silly twenty years ago, but they definitely are now. More on that in subsequent posts.

I’ll withhold further judgment on Pariah until I read it – which I will – because really my disdain belongs to the genre, not this particular book. I used it to make a point which I thought might be suitable to the occasion of the first day of this blog’s activity, and frankly I’m shocked that supposed-Dave-Zeltserman cares about what I said in light of the fact that his book got a positive review from the Washington Post. But I’m not going to make any more judgments about that.

So alright Dave, you win. You’re off notice for the time being. I can only hope that someday a book I’ve written gets reviewed by major newspapers and prompts any kind of response at all, but I suppose it’s your prerogative to respond to puerile criticism in the way you see fit. You’re always welcome to comment on our ramblings here at Sugar Shack, as everyone is. If you want to write a Southie-related post for us sometime in the future, that would be welcome as well.

Until next time I get called out for running my mouth – which ought to happen in fifteen or twenty minutes – this is the Staker, signing off.