Friday, September 2, 2011

First Impressions #20


I’m starting September with a First Impression of Katie Loud’s novel, Unbreakable! Here is the first page:

(Susy; Emerson, NH; September, 2006)
I felt revulsion toward my son today.
There have been times in the past that Seth (and, to be fair, his siblings) has upset me … but never anything like this.
Never before have I been unsure I wanted to lay claim to him.
“He’s only twelve,” my husband told me when I called his cell in near-hysterics. “He doesn’t get it.” He let me rant for another minute before interrupting to say that he was calling the school as soon as he hung up to request that he be called first in the event of further disciplinary issues concerning our children.
Of course, I started laughing. “That isn’t funny.”
“Yeah, I’m getting the impression that you really feel that way,” he said soberly, only making me laugh harder. “Okay, I’m in the middle of a meeting, but I’ll be home in a couple of hours.”
“Is there any way you could pick the kids up from school?”
“Sure, no problem.” He paused for a minute. “Honestly, Susy, it really isn’t that big a deal.”
“No, it wouldn’t be to you,” I said, more sharply than I’d intended.
He didn’t say anything for a long second. “You’re not implying …”
“What, that you’d ever refer to a scholarship student as welfare trash? That you’d use the word spic? No, I know you wouldn’t. That’s the thing, we’ve raised a kid willing to bully someone because of their race or socioeconomic status.”
“He’s a good kid, and I’m not making excuses. I’m probably more upset about this than you are.”
“You just keep the histrionics out of it, right?”
I could hear the smile in his voice. “You said it, I didn’t. Seriously, I have to go, Suse. Eddie just came out and tapped his watch for the third time.”

I thought this was a wonderful first page! I loved the opening line, which caused my eyebrows to shoot up. What a daring approach, to start with a sentence which might evoke judgmental feelings toward the narrator-- although as the situation unfolds, I understand exactly what she’s talking about and sympathize with her.

The exchange with the husband is as revealing in what it doesn’t say as in what it does. I was particularly struck by the lines:

“Honestly, Susy, it really isn’t that big a deal.”
“No, it wouldn’t be to you.”

I get the clear impression that, while the husband can cover up his feelings with a socially acceptable persona, there is something beneath the surface – enough to raise “a kid willing to bully someone because of their race or socioeconomic status.” I’ve met people like this – people who smile and jolly over the unsavory opinions they have of others, but whose children blurt out those opinions without a social filter. I wonder what Susy will say to her son. I wonder what further conversations Susy will have with her husband and where they will lead.

My only editing suggestion is that this line is cumbersome: “He let me rant for another minute before interrupting to say that he was calling the school as soon as he hung up to request that he be called first in the event of further disciplinary issues concerning our children.” I understand it, but I had to stop and read it twice. You don’t want readers hung up on any sentence in your opening paragraphs, so you might want to break it up, maybe even turning it into dialogue.

Other than that – well done! Please stop by Mainewords to see Marcy’s take on the same first page, and you can find Katie Loud – also known as K.Lo – on her blog.

The second and third First Impressions for September will appear on Wednesday and Friday of next week.

8 comments:

  1. I agree, Dianne. Nice critique. Thanks for sharing, Suzy. ;D

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  2. Good job, Katie! I agree with Dianne -- there's something more going on with that ultra-calm husband. I have a feeling he may be at the root of the problem.

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  3. Great start! I just had thing to add, and it's that old "show vs. tell" thing.
    "He paused for a minute."
    "He didn't say anything for a long second."
    These tell what's going on, but I think you're missing a great opportunity here to show tension, setting, etc. Could she hear a deep breath? Did the seconds tick by on a clock? Did she nervously tap her fingers while waiting for an answer? Use these moments to show what she's feeling about the pause, and to set up any future conflict you have planned.

    Good luck!

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  4. Very intriguing story premise. Do we know the genre? It could so be a contemporary in those first couple of paragraphs, but it could also be some fantasy or horror tale unfolding. I especially liked your analysis. I have to watch those overly long sentences, too. I usually catch those when I read out loud to hubby.

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  5. Thank you so much :-) I've never been critiqued before (as you can probably tell from my excessively long sentences ;-)), and this has already been a big help!

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  6. I wrote a post expressing my appreciation :-) http://philosophyofklo.blogspot.com/2011/09/accepting-criticism-along-with-special.html

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  7. Nice first line! :-) Good analysis, Dianne, as usual!

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  8. I LOVE that bombshell of a first line. It certainly gets the reader's attention. Great job.

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