Wednesday, March 25, 2009

New Beginning 620

On a hot, Saturday afternoon in June, Jim Benson stood in his driveway, washing his car. As he was spraying off the suds, he noticed a familiar figure walking down his street, towards her house. Towards him. He tried not to look at her, to keep his attention focused on the car, but his gaze kept straying as she came closer, her lush body bouncing and swaying with each step.

Her long, honey-blonde hair danced in the summer breeze. Sunglasses covered her eyes, but the rest of her lovely features, including her full, bow-shaped lips, were clearly visible. Her breasts almost overflowed out of her tight tube top, and her cut-off denim shorts lovingly cupped the swells of her hips and thighs.

He felt two emotions, which had become familiar to him in recent months: desire, and self-disgust. She was sixteen years old; he was forty-two.

He concentrated on his work, wanting to give the appearance of being engrossed, unaware of her approach, but she was not at all deterred. She strode up the driveway, stepping carefully around the coils of hose, and lightly brushed her lips against his cheek.

“Hi, Daddy,” she said, smiling.

“Hi, hon,” he croaked.

The hose nozzle, rigid in his fist, jerked and sputtered out a jet of urgent fluid, oozed a trickle, then hacked out damp air.

"Goddamn literary symbolism," Jim muttered, as the hose drooped limply.

Opening: Wil E Quixote.....Continuation: Batgirl


_*Rachel*_ said...

I seriously didn't think this needed a continuation--the author stole mine. Yeah, about that... Jim makes me a bit uncomfortable.

fairyhedgehog said...

I found this an uncomfortable read, even before I got to the punchline.

Nice continuation.

Kiolia said...

You shouldn't open with the weather when you could open with a hot blonde striding up the street...

_*Rachel*_ said...

Maybe you meant it to be kind of creepy, maybe you didn't. But I'm put off by such a sensual description--and then finding out she really is his daughter, not as a continuation, is gross.

But as long as it's not autobiographical....

Brigid said...

Yeah, it's horrifying ... but you can bet your butt I would have kept reading. For a while.

writtenwyrdd said...

I have to give you the nod for having written this bastard as very creepy and even somewhat compelling. But even his self loathing doesn't make me curious.

Anyone who's ever had a sexual predator in the family will slam this one shut, unread. Including me.

Genre Reviewer said...

The writing is fine, but: Eww. You lost me as a reader at "Daddy," and I wasn't really comfortable being in Jim's thoughts even before that.

But, in all fairness, some readers will continue on just to see what direction this story is headed.

150 said...

Yeah. Not badly written, but I have no particular urge to read on.

Beth said...

No way would I keep reading this. Yuk.

Also, this is deliberately deceptive, because it initially implies that the reason for his shame is the age difference. As it turns out, that has nothing to do with it.

On the pedantic side, in the first sentence, no comma is necessary after "hot."

her cut-off denim shorts lovingly cupped the swells of her hips and thighs.

If she's approaching him, he can't see this.

In addition, try working on descriptions that don't rely on hackneyed words like 'lovely' and 'lush.' Those are too vague and familiar to carry any punch.

150 said...

I liked the deliberate deception, actually.

I've been thinking about this all day, because I think we owe you at least a little critique. I've certainly read about other despicable characters before, why would I stop here? I decided it's because to the turn-off point, all we have seen Jim Benson do is ogle a woman extensively. Then the kicker--incest!--and, you know, there's nothing to indicate that he's worth reading about any further. He has nothing to offer but desire, self-disgust, and an inappropriate eye for women. Humbert Humbert offers us eloquent language and wry observation; Alex from A Clockwork Orange is bright and decisive; Dexter Morgan's just plain funny. Jim Benson is just creepy. Not in the good way.

That's a lot of weight for your first few paragraphs to bear, but seriously, I think this is one case where there has to be something attractive about Jim--make him witty, observant, cute, dangerous, interesting, anything--because if there's nothing there by the word "Daddy," bam goes the book cover.

Sorry for the treatise. Thanks for making me think. :)

batgirl said...

Well, no reason why someone can't choose uncomfortable subject matter. Some readers will be turned away by it, but the only way to avoid that is to write about fluffy bunnies in a rainbow meadow (actually, that's pretty vomitous itself).

I felt the payoff was a cheat. Jim's self-disgust kicks in late, and it seems to me that his feelings would be mixed with disgust from the beginning. The 'familiar figure' is just coy. Would he seriously think that way? Doesn't he see her every day? If she's 16 she's living at home, isn't she?
I don't mind the cliches if this is supposed to be Jim's pov, because he might well think and speak in hackneyed phrases. But if it's his thoughts, withholding the girl's identity doesn't fit.
If it's the author withholding the girl's identity, then please, liven up the description.

Also, her parents let her go out dressed like that? Where's her mother?

Dave F. said...

I've never read a book with a unlikeable main character that wasn't sold that way. It's usually part of the back cover or the inner front flap synopsis. And as for creepy, well think about Nabokov's Lolita, or Amy Fisher and Joey Buttafuoco, or Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, or most of Chuck Palahniuk's stuff. . .

I remember getting nasty comments and glances after I gave my Mother T. Coraghessan Boyle's The Road To Wellville (I think it was the x-rated massages more than the enemas that got me that cold shoulder)...

Dave F. said...

Also, her parents let her go out dressed like that? Where's her mother?

Who said her mother even saw the outfit?

I've bought clothing for 4 nieces and all I can say is that eventually (some sooner some later) they reach the age where their taste in clothing turns to "early American Streetwalker" and then, the battle is on, full time! It's "Uncle can I buy the fishnet blouse with the peekaboo bra?" and the "NO, it's spelled N.O. Which letter don't you understand?" Which only works until they get their hands on money and buy it themselves.

Sorry, I'm off-topic and venting.

V. Dunn said...

Ew. Ew, ew, ew.

Okay, from a purely grammatical point of view, I have a problem with this sentence:

"As he was spraying off the suds, he noticed a familiar figure walking down his street, towards her house."

It may be technically correct, but I find "her house" is too far separated from the "familiar figure" it refers to. In my case, it brought me to a complete halt for a moment as I tried to determine whether or not the "her" was a typo, because at first I assumed it was Jim's house - which, actually, it is!

We're pretty firmly in Jim's head here. Why would he think of the street as belonging to him, while the house belongs to his daughter? Perhaps there's some deep psychological reason, but the first paragraph may not be the best place to bring this up.

Also, is there any way you could show his desire and self-disgust, rather than just telling us that's what he feels? I think you're almost there, when you have him trying not to look at her, but just saying, "He felt two emotions..." comes across too clinical and detached.

What does desire and self-disgust feel like anyway? Is his stomach twisting into knots. Does he feel nauseous? Is he thinking "I feel self disgust." Or is he more likely to be thinking, "I'm a worthless excuse for a human being, why the hell haven't I killed myself yet?"

Regardless, I wouldn't read this story. Unless it turns out this is the beginning prologue wherein we meet the serial rapist who has been raping girls who remind him of his daughter in a desperate attempt to protect her from himself, and who must be hunted down by Detective Dirk Dashing, the REAL star of the book, in subsequent chapters. I'd read that. :-D

chelsea said...

I, too, liked the deliberate deception. But I didn't like the first paragraph. Rather than fleshing out the scene, it feels like the author made a list of things needed to create "setting" and laid them out in a row. Maybe show that it's a hot day by talking about the sweat gathering at the nape of Jim's neck rather than just saying it's a hot day.

My biggest question is: how are we supposed to feel about Jim? The way the daughter is described, as I feel as though the narrator is eroticizing her (rather than just Jim eroticizing her, because the narrator is the one describing her as lush and bouncy and lovely). I almost get the impression we are supposed to think: well, she IS dressed in barely nothing. Am I off here? Are we supposed to hate Jim immediately and feel there is no excuse for his actions, or are we supposed to find a way to sympathize with him? Because if this is a: teenage girls are hot, and, well . . . boys will be boys! type of read, then I'm really not interested.

If I didn't have a back cover to explain the plot to me, I would keep reading long enough to see what happens yet. But if there's a hint of incest (beyond just imagining it) I would be done reading. So . . . What Happens Next?

Phoenix said...

I'm in the "certainly you can sell a despicable MC" camp. But this, I'm sorry, doesn't feel like quite the way to do it. The deception would be fine, perhaps, if it were strung along more. Not by prolonging the descriptions or even the guy's reactions, but perhaps by giving us fleeting glimpses of his attraction rather than laying it all on the line in the first 150.

And yeah, I think we need to see something of the character himself before his incestuous thoughts are revealed. In one of my mss, I struggled with the issue of a secondary character who has a taste for 12-year-old girls. I pitted that trait against a slew of heroic-type traits -- fierce loyalty, valor, wit, etc -- precisely because I want readers to have uncomfortable, mixed feelings about him. So I made sure to show him in a positive light first before slipping in the negative "surprise".

All to say I think a more subtle approach might yield a more emotional response -- and one that wouldn't have a host of readers snapping the book shut before they even turn the first page.

Brigid said...

I would have read on. I was intrigued. There's a lot of talk about incest here in the comments, but incest wasn't mentioned. It wasn't really even implied. It's two paragraphs by a guy who's uncomfortable about his attraction to his teenage daughter.

We're all writers. We have active imaginations and we're going to carry something out to a worst case scenario -- that's what we do. :-)

But at face value, I would have kept reading.

Min Yin said...

Hmmm, I assumed this was a step-daughter and Jim had moved into his wife's house. Now that I look at it again, I didn't actually have much basis for that assumption.

iago said...

Of course, the (inferred) subject matter is not untouchable, but the writing would need to be exemplary. I'm not getting a great feeling about the handling in this opening, and agree with other commenters.

Interestingly, though, thinking about this did bring to mind the film "Return to Waterloo" by Ray Davies (of the Kinks), which is one of my favorite pieces of work.

Excerpt here...

Elissa M said...

I agree with 150. There has to be more here than a father lusting after his daughter for me to read on. More compelling writing, more depth to the MC, and a more interesting problem for the MC than his hormones.

The way this was written, I would have been surprised if the girl had NOT been his daughter. The non-twist is just not enough to keep me from closing the book.

V. Dunn said...

Brigid - you were wondering where the assumption of incest comes in?

It's because these opening paragraphs are presumably introducing the central conflict of the novel.

Jim itemizes his daughter's "lush body", her "lovely features", her "bow-shaped lips", her breasts and the swells of her hips and thighs. He feels "desire" at the sight of her.

Therefore the central - or at least, initial - conflict is the story is Jim's sexual desire for his own daughter.

If that's what the novel is about, then the novel is about incest, or at the very least incestuous desires.

OTOH, if the author was aiming for "average Dad's uncomfortable with his teenager's burgeoning sexuality", then they've really overplayed their hand.

Robin S. said...

The subject matter would be fine, but the writing has to be stellar, wrapping me inside the guy's head, taking me to the place where and how he feels the attraction, rather than the newscast feeling I have here, where I feel I'm being led to dislike him because Im 'supposed to' - but there is something weird between fathers and daughters sometimes - usually kept below surface - and, like I said, if handled differently, pulling it to the surface could be a good read.

BuffySquirrel said...

The misdirection is crude at best. Misdirection should rely on misleading the reader, not outright lying to them.

Further, I didn't find Jim at all convincing. C'mon, there's a lot more to the guy than this--incest is a power relationship. But you missed it.

Stick and Move said...

I don't see where the author outright lied to the reader. Played coy, yes. Misdirected (somewhat clumsily), yes. Lied? Fraid I don't see it.

And based on this short excerpt, I don't see how Buffy can flatly state the the author has "missed" the dominant aspect of the relationship. But perhaps Buffy has powers of perception that I do not possess. I wonder, is it a burden to be so clairvoyant?

Neelloc said...

Hi Wil E. "her lush body bouncing and swaying with each step." had me thinking of water balloons, sorry.
Re. BuffySquirrel's comment, if there is a power game here, it seems like the daughter would be the one playing her dad. If this is the case, try giving her more than just a description of her general appearance and "Hi, Daddy," to bring this across subtly, so Jim is reacting to her not just ogling.
P.S. Anyone else seen 'Wicked' starring Julia Stiles :-9?

batgirl said...

Random irrelevant thought: if the girl is only 16 and she's lush and spilling out of her clothes and has full breasts and round hips ...
She may be a dirty old man's dream, but her peer group probably make her life hell by calling her fat, and all the other slights teen girls specialise in.

Maybe she has serious body-image issues and that's why she seeks out validation from older men?

BuffySquirrel said...

Never mind, anon. One day you too may possess the ability to read.