Congratulations! You have a new review!

Michael Estrada, author of The Streets of My Sadness, now in its third edition in as many years, saw the familiar subject line in his in-box when he sat down to the computer. He braced himself as he clicked the link in the e-mail, but as usual he had nothing to fear.

Rating: HHHHH

Subject: This “Sadness” Is A True Joy!

Reviewed by: Sister Jean Marie, Immaculate Sisters of Mercy

Location: Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Review: I don’t often read much of this so-called “new literature,” but some of my high-school students were raving about this book so much that I decided to see what the youth of today are reading. My, such language! I must admit I was a trifle shocked by the depictions of adult relationships and intimacy between the characters, but by the end I found myself rooting for these truly wonderful and well-drawn characters. If not for the somewhat racy situations and subject matter I would make this book required reading for my class.

Underneath the review the Web site had its standard feedback form. Was this review helpful to you?

Michael clicked. Yes!

He scrolled down the list of other reviewers from months past, names that held an almost magical power for him. These were the names of kind souls from across the country who had reviewed his book–and not only reviewed it but praised it to heaven! Barnaby Q.

Wilson of Santa Fe, New Mexico; Consuela Sofrito of Brooklyn, NY; Desmond R.V. Bartholomew of Richmond, Virginia; Jerry “Pickles” Oleander of Sacramento–these were his invisible friends, the angels who had appeared as if from heaven. They were the kind strangers who gave Michael the strength to get out of bed every morning, to kill himself at a job he hated, with a boss he hated, with coworkers he hated. This was his true family, the people who kept him going.

Dreamily he checked the best-seller list again. Someday, Michael thought, I’ll be right there with the rest of you. He flipped through a mental catalog of mansions and new cars, boats and private jets.

He navigated to the description of a controversial new best seller, whose author claimed that Moses was homosexual. As a result the book had received hundreds of passionate reviews in only a few days. Roughly half the readers gave the book five stars and praised its scholarly research and courageous honesty; the other half savaged it with one star and claimed that it was an evil and subversive book. Michael stopped at one review, written by a Peter Balsamo of Springfield, Massachusetts:

“… And while it doesn’t have much in common with this exciting tale of Moses, anybody who enjoys this book should read my other great discovery of the past year, THE STREETS OF MY SADNESS (Third Expanded Extreme Edition) by MICHAEL ESTRADA–one of the nicest surprises I’ve found in a long time and a total winner!”

Another mention! It was almost too much.

Was this review helpful to you?

Yes! Yes! By the gay beard of Moses, yes!

Michael closed the browser window and looked away. His cheeks burned with a mixture of joy and embarrassment. There they sat, shining like fat and crazy diamonds. Plus he had sold two more books, pushing his ranking back above fifty thousand.

He walked to work in a daze. Five stars! Once again the world was divided into fives; there were hidden numerological signs and stars everywhere. The glint of sunlight coming off a car windshield was a star, the pizzeria on the corner had three fives in its telephone number, a passing car had a pair of fives on its license plate. A young man passed by, wearing a T-shirt advertising a heavy metal band that had a pentagram silk-screened on it. The elevated train rattled overhead. It was the 7 train. If only it were the 5 train!

And yet, why shouldn’t people like the book? It was a great story, timeless really, about the most timeless subject of all: love! Oh, go ahead and laugh, you bitter hipsters and blind fools! The Streets of My Sadness (Third Expanded Extreme Edition) was the story of a young man named Miguel, very much like Michael himself in many ways, who also lived in the shadow of Manhattan in the great aluminum suburb of Astoria, Queens. He, too, worked as a shipping clerk for an auto-parts supply company. Like Michael, Miguel had been in love once, with a beautiful but unstable young woman who had broken his heart, leaving Michael/Miguel to the comfort of sweet dreams of future glory washed down by cheap, sour beer. They both dreamed that one day they might meet their old love again, and when they did she would be an old and unloved thing, broken by life. Michael/Miguel would raise a bejeweled, manicured hand and dismiss her one last time as she wailed in agony at the final defeat of her ruined life.

That day would surely come, sure as those five-star reviews for The Streets of My Sadness!

Michael conducted imaginary interviews with himself. “It started slowly. Of course, I had no idea it would blossom into this, but this is proof that quality always finds an audience.” He came up with titles for the inevitable future biographies: Streets of Sadness, Words of Joy: The Michael Estrada Story. Or, one taken from his favorite line in his novel: A Heart as Big as All of New York City. He pictured himself at the swell parties and awards ceremonies across the East River, in those glittering ballrooms of Midtown. Maybe he would maintain an aura of mystery and decline one invitation after another, and wouldn’t that show those snobs who had once snubbed him, back when he was a lowly shipping clerk from Queens!

All that day Michael worked like a man possessed. Even his boss, a squat and ridiculous man, couldn’t help but be impressed, wondering aloud a few times why Michael “couldn’t work like that every day.” Michael let it pass with a good-natured laugh. Such a funny little man! He too would be immortalized in a future novel; secretly Michael had been working on it in his head for a few years now, ever since he had started working at the warehouse. He would write a novel that would do for shipping clerks what Bukowski had done for the post office! True, Bukowski had also written a lot of stories about being a shipping clerk, but not a whole novel. Except for parts of Factotum, of course. Or most of it, anyway.

Michael took several bathroom breaks during the day. Each time he stood a little longer at the faded and dirty mirror in the smelly pit of a room, looking at his reflection. It was a good face, he decided, a noble face, one that had an aura of greatness about it.

When he got home that afternoon, carrying a six-pack and a chicken sandwich from the corner deli, Michael had earned and lost several fortunes, made love to dozens of Hollywood’s most beautiful starlets, and won or rejected every major literary prize. Time to celebrate! He sat at the computer and cracked the first beer as he said a quiet toast to his success.

Congratulations! You have a new review!

Michael paused. He wasn’t expecting another one so soon. Calmly, bored even, he went to the site.

Rating: HH

Subject: Not Completely Terrible, But Pretty Bad

Reviewed by: A Concerned Reader

Location: Planet Earth

Review: This isn’t the worst book I’ve ever read, but it’s pretty close. Some of the writing is so bad that it is truly baffling to me that this book got published at all, but since I respect anybody who has the drive and determination to write and publish a novel, I’ll give this book the benefit of the doubt. Still, I will pick a couple of random examples to illustrate my point: for example, on page 7 of the “Third, Revised Extreme Edition” (huh???), the female character says to Miguel that his “eyes are as beautiful as two Puerto Rican suns,” which doesn’t make any sense. Does Puerto Rico really have two suns in the sky? And is it really any different from, say, the sun that shines over Hawaii, or Santa Monica? A page later we’re told that Miguel has “a heart as big as all of New York City,” which is about as bad a cliche as it is possible to write.

After reading the glowing reviews and seeing this book mentioned in hundreds of reviews all over this site and at similar sites, I can only conclude that it is the author himself, or maybe the publisher (are they the same person?) who is writing all these rave reviews all over the web.

Michael’s jaw clenched. Underneath this blasphemy, the site mocked him: Was this review helpful to you? (No!!!) Below that, another form:

Report this review as inappropriate.

His finger nearly cramped from clicking the mouse so fast and hard. Report! Report! Report! The beautiful constellation of stars, the flowing balance and perfection of fives running down the page, had been ruined by this latest attack, the sleek limousine of his fame rammed by a drunk and reckless driver. And not even drunk! He could have some mercy for a drunk. Bukowski had been a drunk, after all. This was a premeditated, calculated attack, screaming out to heaven for vengeance!

Michael seethed with rage as he paced the room. Bastard! The dirty bastard! That’s what was wrong with the world, nobody was willing to give a guy a break, not even a hardworking shipping clerk from Queens! Then he drained the can of beer with a dramatic flourish and sat at the keyboard.

To Whom It May Concern:

My enemies are at it AGAIN, trying to attack our author’s work by alleging that he is somehow engaging in ILLEGAL BEHAVIOR. We ask that you PLEASE take down this review for THE STREETS OF MY SADNESS by Michael Estrada (Third Expanded Extreme Edition) IMMEDIATELY.


Karen A. Welberg, Publisher

Chinaski Press

Michael hit “send” and began to calm down. It would take at least a day for a site administrator to get back to him. Then he looked at the e-mail again. “My enemies are at it again…”

My enemies. Shit!

Calm. What was needed was calm. Hadn’t he been in this situation before? Was the author of The Streets of My Sadness such a sensitive artiste that he couldn’t take a little jealousy and sniping from stupid failures? Anybody who didn’t know how it worked was naive. The big publishers were the real fakes, not the little guys struggling to make it on their own. They deserved a little more leeway, it was only fair!

The bell of his e-mail in-box dinged. Michael thought for a moment that the site administrator might have realized the severity of the attack against him and taken immediate action, but instead he was faced with the disgusting spectacle of another unsolicited query:

Dear Publisher:

I read and very much enjoyed Michael Estrada’s The Streets Of My Sadness. I am a writer too, and self-published my first novel (link here). My stuff is in a similar vein to Mr. Estrada’s so I’m hoping you might be interested in considering my work for your company. I’ve just finished my second novel, which is also about a young person in New York City ….

Michael found the book on Amazon. It was a stupid-looking thing, badly designed. Sales rank in the millions, and only one review, obviously written by the author himself or a friend of the author’s.

Was it a trap? It was too much of a coincidence, surely. What was the likelihood that somebody would write to him just after a horrible review like that was posted?

As he paced the floor it became clear. Of course that’s what it was. Michael smiled. It was almost laughable. Pathetic!

He sat back at his desk and went to work on his tormentor’s book. He worked furiously, punching out a series of brutal one-star reviews. A flood of voices came roaring out of him, clamoring for justice, competing for the most ruthless, vicious remark that would bring this person down. “A pathetic waste of time,” raged Barnaby Q. Wilson of Santa Fe; “Idiotic, horrible, stupid,” wailed Consuela Sofrito of Brooklyn. Desmond R.V. Bartholomew of Richmond, Virginia, deemed it “The worst book I have ever read,” while Jerry “Pickles” Oleander of Sacramento was even more direct: “Crap, crap, crap” was the whole of his review.

Would you like to submit your review?

Yes, said Barnaby. Yes! said Consuela. Yes Yes Yes! screamed the others. Balance had to be restored; in such circumstances justice always had to be swift and terrible.

Michael clicked back to the page for his own book. His rating had slipped from fifty to below eighty thousand. Nobody had bought his book that day. That would not stand. Tomorrow that would change, he would see to it.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Pul Woods.