What writer--or reader--hasn't experienced it? That stab of alarm at seeing someone else praised, or that surge of schadenfreude at seeing someone else trashed. And afterwards, the faint stench of guilt rising like steam from the wound, with its odor of corroded metal. (Note to self: Stop trying to sound like John Banville.)
I confess it: I have been guilty of the cheapest sort of envy. For example, there is a writer--she shall remain nameless--whose success, both in terms of sales and reviews, baffles me. What, I wonder, is everyone seeing that I'm not? Am I blind? Or has she sold the world a bill of goods the cheeziness of which only I detect?
In any case, every time this writer publishes a book, I have a panic attack. When someone says how wonderful she is (this happens 99% of the time) I beat my fists. When, on rare occasions, someone criticizes her, I cheer.
I don't know her. I'm sure she's a perfectly nice person. I'm sure she works as hard as I do, and tries as hard as I do to believe in herself. She probably has betes noires of her own.
About a decade ago I wrote something on this subject. In "The Term Paper Artist," a novella in my collection Arkansas, I have my hero, a writer named David Leavitt, cogitate on the fact that potential Nobel prize winners are as likely to experience fits of envy as are unpublished poets: "we are speaking, here, of the emotions of vacancy, which scale neither enhances nor mitigates; for panic and emptiness (the words are Forster's) always feel like panic and emptiness, no matter the degree."
I hereby invite readers of TEV to share their tales of literary envy--their own envy or that of others. A call for confessions, or perhaps an opportunity for us to remind one another that we are all in this human dilemma together. And that's something we can't be reminded of often enough.