Honest Critiques

No, I mean it. REAL honest. Email your excerpts or full stories, up to 1000 words or so, to honestcrits [at] yahoo [dot] co [dot] uk. Synopses would also be welcome. My backlog is so daunting now that I recommend not submitting anything you are not prepared to wait a couple of months for a response on.
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  • Thursday, August 18, 2005

    A Weekend Jaunt

    Well. Here's an odd one.

    Samantha has sent in a short story called "A Weekend Jaunt". It begins with the reading of Henry Fromm's will. He leaves little, and his relatives are annoyed. Among them are Celia Ferguson, Henry's niece, and her mother Janice, who "was viewed as one of the most beautiful (and most vicious) women in town. Celia took after her mother in a number of respects. Unfortunately for Celia, attractiveness was not one of them."

    They turn their anger and frustration on Charlie Haverly, the lawyer ("Nickel Creek's hotshot young attorney".)

    “You can’t mean that is all there is.” Janice traced a finger along his jaw line. “I know the old coot was hiding something up in that big house of his.”

    Charlie cast a lingering glance at Janice, deciding the best course of action. He brought his face so near Janice’s she could taste the avocadoes Charlie had for a snack earlier. He drew in a breath and...

    “Nope.”

    Charlie snickered, turned and walked back to the podium.


    So Charlie leaves, and strolls off down Alhambra Way:

    Charlie walked past rows of ramshackle old mansions and makeshift apartment buildings. At one time, Nickel Creek was a hotbed of tycoons and opportunists, but since the oil market went bust, it had become a haven for criminals and squatters.

    In the distance, Charlie could see a young girl standing at the fence in front of Henry’s old house. A slow grin crept across his face as he approached her. The girl, wearing a fuchsia sarong and cut-off white tank top, heard Charlie approach. Charlie stood next to her at the fence and looked at the house with her.


    Could this be the same young girl who had quietly slipped away from the reading of the will? No one had paid her any notice. "Henry was notorious for collecting an array of odd characters. Surely this girl was no exception."

    Now read on:

    “I like that one. Easier on the eye.”

    “Yes. I had a feeling you would approve.” The young girl glanced at Charlie for a moment before returning her gaze to the house.

    “That place needs a paint job in the worst way.” The girl opened the gate and began to walk up the path to the door.

    “I wouldn’t do that.”

    “Why?”

    “Because Henry is dead, remember? If someone sees you go into the house, they will call the cops or something.”

    The young girl gave Charlie an irritated look and walked back to the gate.

    “Well, it is my house. Technically.”

    “Do they know that?”

    The girl sat down on the curb, took a drink from her water bottle and offered a drink to Charlie. He took the bottle and drained it.

    “Why did you have to go and pick someplace so hot?”

    “Are you seriously complaining about the heat?”

    Charlie sat next to the girl on the curb.

    “Are you saying I have no right?”

    The young girl glanced at Charlie and burst out laughing.

    “Well, if you think about where you live most of the time, I would say no, you don’t have a right to complain.”

    Charlie looked at the girl and smirked.

    “Point taken.”

    They sat quietly for a few moments. Across the street, two small children were taking turns kicking a dead bird. The girl would watch the children for a while, look at Charlie as though she wanted to say something, stop herself and glance back at the children. Charlie broke the silence.

    “You know we have to get back to work.”

    “I know.”

    “Now that Henry is dead …”

    “I know.” The girl stood up, dusting herself off. “I’m just getting used to this one though.”

    “I don’t know why you got another one. The timing for the return was perfect. You know how attached you get.”

    “I know.”

    “I can go first, if you need a minute.”

    “No, you’re right. We should do it together. The weekend just went so fast.”

    Charlie stood, looking around. The girl stared at the children who were still kicking the bird and paying no attention to Charlie and the girl.

    “Ready?” Charlie was watching the girl bemused.

    “Yeah. Sileo!” The children froze in place. The girl looked around her and everywhere all activity had ceased movement.

    “I’ve always loved that trick.” Charlie looked at the children for a second.

    “I thought you were in a hurry. Did mean old Janice scare you?” Laughing, the girl looked down at her apparel, swiped her hand across the air and suddenly was dressed in a simple white gown.

    “Very funny. Do you want to or is it my turn?”

    “I’ll do it.”

    “Thanks for suggesting this. It was fun.” The girl looked at Charlie for a long time.

    “Yes, almost like the old days. Before you decided to become a jerk.” The girl gave Charlie a big grin and reached her hand to him. Charlie took her hands in his.

    “Sir?” Charlie searched for the words.

    “Yes?” The girl gazed at Charlie expectantly.

    “I am doing okay, aren’t I?” Charlie appeared unsure of himself.

    “Of course you are.” The girl replied. “What fun is good without evil? Next time, though, you have to be the old guy and I get to be the cool dude. Deal?”

    “Deal.”

    With that, the girl gave a quick nod of her head, sending the two of them skyward. When they reached the clouds, there were two distinct explosions. One black. One white.



    Now, what's going on there?

    As near as I can get: the girl and Charlie are an angel and a demon (a fallen angel) respectively. Every now and again they meet on Earth, where they have a little fun messing with the heads of mortals. Perhaps one is performing good deeds and the other evil deeds, but it's rather blurry.

    I have to say, if that's the idea - they're just playing pranks on people - I really quite like it. Well plotted, it could be a strong, funny story. The difficulty with this treatment of the idea is that it's a gimmick ending with a very hard-to-make out plot leading up to it. I do not get the business with Henry's house and his relatives at all. Perhaps I am being very dense and some time tomorrow I will suddenly kick myself, but it doesn't make sense to me even having read it through once.

    I bought M John Harrison's last book of short stories, and they're so elliptical and jewel-like you can barely grasp the mood he's going for, let alone the details of What Is Supposed To Be Going On. Nevertheless, they are still effective because he's a brilliant stylist. You come out of one of his stories, or - less extreme - one of Kelly Link's, and you have a powerful sense that you've seen the shape of something unsettling. (I couldn't say for sure that there is a real knowable plot behind every single Harrison story. Sometimes I suspect him of using his technical skill to Cloud Men's Minds like the Shadow.)

    The writing here is very uneven. To begin with, there are things like: "At the sound of the door slamming, Charlie, shaking his head, turned towards the rest of assemblage." There are a few sentences like that, interrupting themselves to tell you something different: "During the gathering, attended by those who knew Henry the best (and most likely loathed him the most), no one paid any notice to the young girl standing quietly in the corner." These are the sorts of things that you can usually iron out by reading the story out loud. Imagine you're doing the audiobook. Anything you have trouble saying, or saying well, needs to be rewritten. It's particularly hard to say things with lots of parentheses.

    It gets better towards the end, with more dialogue. The narrative voice wavers between pretty good - "They sat quietly for a few moments. Across the street, two small children were taking turns kicking a dead bird. The girl would watch the children for a while, look at Charlie as though she wanted to say something, stop herself and glance back at the children" - and pretty awful - "The girl stared at the children who were still kicking the bird and paying no attention to Charlie and the girl."

    So: it needs lots of attention at sentence level. That work has to be put in before Samantha tries to sell it. Compounding that, the plot needs looking at, and I can't really help there, because good short stories are tiny delicate mechanisms. You need to be the one who put it together originally to fix them when they're broken. Until it's ticking, it's not going to sell.
    Torgo, 1:05 am

    2 Comments:

    So what did I get from this story? Well, obviously fallen angels like avocadoes. I knew there was a reason I didn't like the little green buggers. My foremost and burning question is...what happened to Celia and Janice? Were they and the lawyer just window dressing for the angelic alter-duo?
    Blogger Bonnie Calhoun, at 3:32 am  
    It does kind of look that way.
    Blogger Torgo, at 2:17 pm  

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