This man has written 276 negative Amazon reviews, mostly in verse

In News by Joe Veix / December 3, 2013

Chris Roberts is a prolific troll on Amazon, having written 276 negative (mostly one-star) reviews, since late 2010. He’s also, according to his description, “a short story writer” who “was nominated for the Pushcart Prize.” He’s either bitter and jealous, or (highly unlikely) a brilliant performance artist, channeling the cliche of an author outraged at a world that refuses to acknowledge his brilliance. It’s possible he’s both.

The typical Roberts review runs 10-20 lines; many are in verse. Here’s his review of Doug Dorst’s “S.” (average rating: 4.5 stars), to give you a better idea:

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Here’s his one-star review of “Lolita,” which many people agree to be a very good book (he has since deleted the review; this screengrab is via OTBKB):

Review-of-Lolita1

And here’s his critique of Stephen Hawking’s “calculative processing” in his review of “An Unfettered Mind” (two stars):

“What, then, is one to think of Stephen Hawking’s theory of No Boundary Proposal? It rather lacks proper calculative processing and dimensional assessment. Both criteria need to be grounded in a logically measured acceleration of the universe.”

Only 11% of readers (1,597 of 15,206) of his reviews have found them “helpful.” His bad reviews get bad reviews.

Sometimes he deviates from his own style. In his review of a biography of Norman Mailer, “A Double Life,” he writes a sprawling 3,346 word fictionalized account of Mailer’s murder via a series of unattributed news articles. Posted in 2013, it elaborates on a piece he originally posted as a guest in 2009 to the LegendFire forum (aka, in the site’s own words, a “creative writing community” and “place of belonging”). “Sounds like the perfect plot for a story,” reads the only response, from a forum user named Blaze, “and it could even have a great twist at the end.”

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Almost everything Roberts does is laced with anger and bitterness. He’s prolific on Twitter (as of writing this piece, he has a total of 15,191 tweets, with 49 in the previous 13 hours). Many of his tweets often lurch into aggressive and homophobic tirades directed at other authors and publications. In 2008 he wrote a hit piece against The New Yorker, that reads like it was written by an aging, alcoholic Holden Caulfield. Here’s a bit of it:

“Look once more at the monstrosity of architecture that is The New Yorker. Surely if you dally to long, you will be escorted by New Yorker drones, ‘thought police,’ to a modern Bastille prison for subversion to the sense of esthetics so proudly bandied forward by the magazine, ad nauseam.”

Yikes. He sure showed those ol’ stuffed shirts.

cum-drunk-ruined-career

He’s equally aggressive about promoting his own writing. Here’s a portion of an email he sent Blake Butler at HTML Giant, the subject “Yeah, you”:

“I write stories that make Hemingway, Fitzgerald and others of their ilk look like candy asses, suckling at their momma’s tit. I don’t have time to be coddling dirt dumb editors who can’t even layout a guidelines page – wake the fuck up!!”

Earlier in that same email he calls Butler “cum drunk,” officially making Hemingway look like a “candy ass.”

So is Roberts for real? It seems likely that he’s a deeply troubled man, and that this isn’t some kind of performance piece. As I’ve been hitting him pretty hard so far, and feel like kind of a huge jerk about it, here’s a small amount of pathos: According to him (and as such this should be taken with a huge grain of sodium, though I imagine there’s at least some truth mixed in), he grew up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, where he played “stick ball and other sundry street games with the sons of Mafia killers.”

He lost his mother at the age of eight, and his father at 12. He then was shipped upstate, where he attended five different high schools. After that he joined the Navy, and then got into the “horticulture field.” Now, inspired by the movie “A Beautiful Mind,” and a novel “best not revealed,” he writes fiction.

Back to his reviews. In an interview with OTBKB with Matthew Taub he explained:

“The Amazon reviews are a reflection of my belief that there are no great writers, only great concepts unrealized. I am notorious because I cut through the self-congratulations and posing; that is why authors fear me. If that gets me noticed, so be it, but if that’s why you are going to publish me, not for me. God him or herself could never out-write me or turn a better phrase.”

He recently published a short story, “Hazy Shade of Winter,” as a Kindle Single. He’s received mostly negative reviews, with an average of 2 stars, though author Julie Salamon said it’s “the work of a gifted writer.” This quote is posted prominently in the Amazon description of the book.

I downloaded the story. I found myself, as I read it, cruelly rooting against him, like he deserves to be a bad writer for all his ruthless negativity and bloated egotism. I was seeking literary justice. It begins:

“When by the frost of the windowpane and all that descends from the sky are dying snowflakes, it is a canto. How they float past the eye to lay down the ground a scream. An imperceptible sound to those not attuned, yet it is heard sitting in the wingchair and looking out. All that is holding gray New England sky and juxtaposing silver-white snowfall is disturbed.

How Blaine sits in the chair in the drawing room of her mother’s home. The exhale of her breath fogs the window. She traces her pale fingers through the condensation in erratic patterns. Her life’s breath streaking down the glass in small droplets. She seeks meaning in this, but it is simply that which is immeasurable. It is a temporal haunting. Here from her psyche it consumes and emanates as one—a vibrating self-mutilation.”

It goes on like this. I think even the most kind person would agree that it’s not very good. I would think that god would write better. I’m concerned about saying anything more, and stooping to his level and/or feeding his ego further (yet another critic doesn’t “get” his edgy, daring work). I’ve probably already done the latter with the previous ~1,000 words.

I almost sympathize with him. I have a sinking feeling that he’s incredibly alone in the world. That seems like the only justification for all of his actions.

I do wonder how many stars he’d give this piece about him, were he ever to review it. Oddly, I really wish he would.

h/t Maria Popova