Common sense should tell any writer never to Google themselves… but compulsion is usually both meaner and louder. When author Kathleen Hale received a one-star rating and harsh review, she did what anyone would do and absolutely freaked out. Then she did something few others would do—she tracked down the blogger’s home address.
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Hale has since revealed the full review that began her spiral into panic and obsession: “Fuck this. I think this book is awfully written and offensive; its execution in regards to all aspects is horrible and honestly, nonexistent. I can say with utmost certainty that this is one of the worst books I’ve read this year, maybe my life.” Hale claims this negative Goodreads review was followed by extensive cyber-bulling from blogger Blythe Harris, including endless Tweets ridiculing her work. Hale’s conundrum was clear:
Confronting [Blythe] would mean publicly acknowledging that I searched my name on Twitter, which is about as socially attractive as setting up a Google alert for your name (which I also did).
But Hale did publicly acknowledge searching her name on Twitter. She did so inadvertently when, while “good-naturedly drunk on bourbon and after watching Blythe tweet about her in-progress manuscript, I sub-tweeted that, while weird, derivative reviews could be irritating, it was a relief to remember that all bloggers were also aspiring authors.” This, like the rest of the story, did not end well. Fellow readers tweeted her what she might have already known: reviews are for readers, not authors. Hale responded as a victim, tweeting: “Sorry. Didn’t mean all bloggers, just the ones who talk shit then tweet about their in-progress manuscripts.”
With her public image tarnished, Hale opted for a more anonymous approach—spending so much time searching the reviewer’s social media profiles that she noticed the inconsistencies. On one profile, Blythe Harris claimed to be an 8th grade teacher. On another, she taught the 10th grade. Hale became obsessed with the accumulation of these details, noting that many of Blythe’s Instagram photos appeared generic and impersonal, as if they had been Google searched. And they had been Google searched—by Hale, and repeatedly.
Things had clearly already taken a turn for the worse. Then it took a turn for the much, much worse. Hale used her connections with a book club to obtain Blythe Harris’ address—and when she paid for a background check, she discovered what felt like the lynchpin of the whole mystery: Blythe Harris was a pseudonym, and her story was a lie. According to Hale’s own article, the real mystery seems to be why Hale felt that, when she rented a car to drive to Harris’ house, she believed she was standing up for herself. Though she backed out of actually knocking on Blythe Harris’ doorstep, she continued to confirm the reviewer’s identity by calling her at work.
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Hale describes “feeling like the biggest creep in the world, but also that [she] might be talking to a slightly bigger creep.” The title of her article, “‘Am I Being Catfished?’ An Author Confronts Her Number One Online Critic,” shows her readers who she think the real creep is: the woman who concealed her real identity online. And Hale does not seem to consider that she had given Blythe a reason to hide it. Blythe Harris has since retreated from social media, setting all profiles to private.
Though this is Kathleen Hale’s most notorious instance of stalking, it’s also not her first. That came when she was fourteen—came in the form of a perhaps more morally nebulous circumstance. After a fellow student made criminal allegations about Hale’s mother, Hale called the girl fat and poured isopropyl alcohol over her head. Hale recollects this situation in an earlier article, published before any of her novels.
While the stalking incident happened several years ago, there’s been a new development: Kathleen Hale has a book deal… and she’s set to make money off the stalking. Slated for June publication, Kathleen Hale Is a Crazy Stalker is a collection of essays including one piece, “Catfish,” which directly addresses the incident. Critics say that Hale doesn’t know what catfishing actually is—and some of them have even made an online campaign to stop Hale’s publication. Grove Press, Kathleen’s publishers, express support: “We stand by our publication. There are six essays in this collection which have been revised and expanded since online publication, including the essay “Catfish.” We would encourage people to read the collection before passing judgement.”
Consider the collection. What do you think?
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Kathleen Hale has been known to stalk people from time to time. Not recently, of course, and only online. Well, mostly online. She once tracked a mountain lion running loose in the Hollywood Hills, while pregnant with her daughter. And then there was that time she hunted eight-foot, three-hundred-pound feral hogs in Florida–all for the good of mankind, of course.
In these six extraordinary essays, Hale proves herself to be an exhilarating new voice whose commentaries on womanhood, obsession, and the Internet are both hilarious and profound. In “Catfish,” she recounts a standoff with a caustic Goodreads reviewer who writes under an alias, spurring Hale on a treacherous Instagram investigation that ends badly at the reviewer’s house. In “Prey,” she tells the troubling story of her assault at a massage parlor in the days before her fresh-man year at Harvard, sending her to seek shelter in the library, where she spends hours researching and memorizing the weak spots of various dangerous animals. Whether she’s visiting a colony of misfits in the desert who claim to suffer from undiagnosable environmental illnesses or watching the Miss America pageant at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, Hale wields razor-sharp wit, uncommon levels of empathy, and fearless honesty, especially when turned upon herself.
Hilarious, candid, and sometimes unsettling, Kathleen Hale Is a Crazy Stalker examines the many forms that trauma can take, revises our ideas of who or what a predator can be, and introduces an arresting and madcap new voice for this strange American century.
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