Sometimes, I worry that I only write reviews on this blog (and in general) when I've read something I dislike. Not that I think I'm unfair in my bad reviews--I try to give specific, concrete reasons why I dislike something, and I like to think I'm fair, even if I admit that I can be cruel.
But what I worry about is that if people read only negative reviews, they'll start to think that I'm actually a negative person. I worry that I'm coming off as a grump, a curmudgeon that doesn't like anything at all. Whereas in fact, I'm a grump and a curmudgeon who likes a lot of things. (Rimshot.) I just find it harder to talk about the things I like than the things I dislike.
Because the fact is, it's a lot easier to write a bad review than a good one. A bad review can point to specific areas where improvement is needed, giving concrete and constructive advice like, "These two characters are telling each other information that both of them already know, solely to provide exposition for the audience. That's a mistake." Or, "A car chase scene doesn't work nearly as well in a book as it does in a movie. Work to the strengths of your medium." Or, "Research is important to a believable and well-crafted book. If you're going to use intelligent zombie rats and mice in your novel, you should do some reading on actual rats and mice, so that your book doesn't wind up filled with plot holes because you don't understand just how hard it is to 'rat-proof' a building." (Um, sorry, Brian Keene, author of 'City of the Dead'. But it's all true.)
But a good story...it touches the soul. Whether comedy or tragedy, horror or romance, there's an indefinable element to the alchemy it produces in its audience. When you describe something truly brilliant, eventually all you're left with is synonyms for "good". You can say "the characterization is wonderful," you can say "the story was brilliant", you can say "the acting was amazing", but you can't ever really describe why. That brilliance exists on a level deeper than words. The sentence, "If Bruce Springsteen had ever recorded 'Born To Lurk', these two would have been on the album cover," cannot be pinned down or quantified to explain exactly why it is funny. It just is. There is a transcendent comic genius to Simon Pegg jump-kicking an old lady in the head that you cannot explain to anyone who has not seen 'Hot Fuzz' for themselves--and you'll get some odd looks if you try. The end of 'The Kindly Ones' will always bring tears to my eyes, but I can no more explain why than I can tell you why 'Slither' terrifies me.
Which is, of course, what we love about these stories. It's why we make art, to create something that transcends a mere description of its contents. But it does mean that ultimately, any good review can only say, "Go and experience this for yourself. I cannot do it justice." And you feel silly writing that every time.