Saturday, November 04, 2006

New Beginning 155

When I was four years old, I fell in love with Dana Meyer's fingernails.

I can still picture them today: delicate half-moons peeking coyly over the smooth horizon of his cuticles, directing the eye up toward serene white ridges that capped his fingertips like far-off mountain peaks.

In all the nursery school, there was not one hand that could compare to Dana's fastidious manicure; even the teacher's nails were thick with grit by the end of a day spent clawing through the sandbox for lost toys. As for the rest of us, we were what you would expect from a normal class of pre-schoolers: snotty and scabby and tousled and frayed, dressed as haphazardly as our parents would allow, gloriously unselfconscious in our filth. But Dana was always perfectly, meticulously put together; an oasis of clean and calm amid the messiness of common toddlerhood. Over the course of that year, I cultivated a growing obsession with Dana Meyer's compulsive sense of hygiene.

Before lunch, I would follow Dana into the bathroom and be sure to take the sink next to his and watch him lather, scrub and rinse his hands, using one nail to force the soapy water beneath another.

In art class, while the other kids were finger-painting big, yellow suns and happy, smiling families, my crayon would be tracing the delicate arc of Dana’s lunula. We became best friends; we had a special bond, as strong as the hyponychium. And when I was invited to his house, I would secretly search in his trash or under his bed for clippings to add to my collection.

Yes, even then, at that tender age, I knew some day those perfect fingernails would be mine.

Sit still, Dana Meyer, and don’t say a word. I promise you this will be quick. After the first one or two, you won’t feel a thing.

Opening: AIR.....Continuation: ril


GutterBall said...

Oh, my....

I'll try to make a useful comment later when words cease to fail me!

Anonymous said...

Huh. Well I have certainly never read a novel that started with a nail obsession before, so points for orginiality. Unfortunately, I found it very, very boring.

Anonymous said...

What? No car chases?!

Oh; it's not that sort of book. Never mind.

The writing is awesome, but in the interests of getting to the good stuff a bit quicker, I think the second paragraph could be cut. It's a good instance of "show, don't tell" but it also doesn't add much to (what appears to be) the greater story.

The continuation was awesome too. Yes; pliers will do, when car chases can't be arranged. :-D

Dave Fragments said...

Let me just ask - what sort of crazy person is obsessed with someone else's fingernails?

If I read these words on the first page of book, It had better be a nutcase book like "sellevision" or "Running with Scissors" or a loonie book like "Choke" by Palahniuk (and never "Fight Club" because this narrator is the opposite of macho). Any other book I would close and put down (move away from the book, slowly and surely... move away from the book).

I like the opening as it is. It's a little overdone but then the narrator is a few neurons short of anything but semi-functional sanity anyway.

pacatrue said...

Nice job, ril.

As for the original, I just couldn't ever believe a 4 year old would act or think this way. I realize that this is some older person, likely an adult, looking back on their time as a 4 year old, but I still couldn't wrap my mind around the scene. I only have a small handful of images of being 4 myself - images of pre-school, a red tractor, grandparents - that I can't imagine either remembering such detail.

This may be wrong - perhaps this is a memoir - but that's where I am.

Anonymous said...

I have no idea how old Dana is. That I want to know, suggested the first 150 words work, for me at least. I want to read a little further to see who Dana is and why he has such perfect fingernails.

That continuation was good, but it could have been creepier.

Anonymous said...

AIR, I like it. Smooth, sensuous prose; strongly visual; odd subject matter.

In the third paragraph you could replace some of the generalizations (like clean, calm, common toddlerhood--but what nice words those are, especially close together) with specifics (like snotty and scabby, also excellent words, especially applied to four-year-olds).

Yeah, some action will need to come along soon, but I think this is good writing. I would read on. (How many pages until the explosions?)


Anonymous said...

I did not type my thoughts very well in my last comment. Let's try that again.

I, too, think it's odd that a character would be so pre-occupied with someone's fingernail, but it was weird enough for me to want to find out why. So, the first 150 words were intriguing enough for me to read on. My opinion is that this sets the reader up for some very in-depth characterizations.

I'd read-on, willing to see where this author is going and find out what Dana is all about and why our POV character cares so much.

HawkOwl said...

I think "to peek" is my most hated verb. And "coyly" might be my most hated adverb. So just for that I wouldn't read it... Not that I particularly care about toddlers' love stories anyway.

Good luck with it.

McKoala said...

The second para slightly grossed me out for some reason; maybe because I'm not into fingernails. I think the writing is nice, though, and I would read on to see where it was going.

Stacia said...

I really liked this opening. I agree with Pulp about using stronger adjectives, but I was intrigued. I like the voice, I love the way choosing such an odd thing to focus on gives us so much insight into the protag's character.

I'd absolutely read on.

Virginia Miss said...

Although this opening was not to my taste at all, I do see how some readers would be intrigued by the narrator's unusual obsession. Also, the writing doesn't suck. Good luck, author

Anonymous said...

I don't have enough disbelief to suspend for a piece like this.

It sounds very much like a forty-year-old fantasizing what it might have been like to be a 4 y-o with a 40 y-o's brain. It's a gimmick and I'd toss it out because the author is overreaching for cleverness and isn't compensating with any kind of depth of understanding for the human (or 4 year-old) condition.

For the record, I don't mind all the words -- it's very nice writing. As a reader, I'm not particularly offended if an author chooses to paint a full and vivid picture for me and actually makes me, you know, read.

PJD said...

I disagree with the statement that it sounds like a 40-year-old fantasizing about what it would be like to be a 4-year-old. The 40-year-olds I know have had 4-year-olds in preschool and have had quite a lot of opportunity to observe them up close.

I find it entirely believable that one OCD 4-year-old would pique the interest of another 4-year-old.

Whether I'd want to read about it... I just hope they get beyond first grade pretty quick.

What is entirely unclear to me is whether the first sentence is meant to imply that the narrator has also fallen in love with Dana (who I thought was a girl until the first "his") and not just with Dana's fingernails.

I could imagine a world that did not include that second paragraph. In fact, I would prefer such a world. It's overdone. Far-off mountain peaks? Smooth horizon? Delicate half-moons? I get the image of the mountain landscape in twilight, but nowhere does this remind me of fingernails. Besides, the third paragraph explains that it was not really the fingernails you fell in love with but Dana's cleanliness. The fingernails were merely the feature that brought his cleanliness to your attention.

In my opinion, dump the second paragraph and keep the rest exactly as it is. I think the rest of it is wonderful and doesn't bash us over the head with supersized metaphor.

By the way: Is Dana a vampire and the narrator a brutal eunuch? That'd be cool.

Anonymous said...

The writing is smooth and competent, and the idea is intriguing. I'd give it another page or so. I kind of like that the author is not attempting to mimic a child-voice, because that's not at all easy to do and can go badly wrong.
Didn't Poe have a story about a man obsessed by a woman's teeth? I think he goes out to her grave and pulls them out while in a trance.

writtenwyrdd said...

Dave pretty much said it for me again. I really loved the writing, even though it was overdone. I can't say I'd read the book, but it was so wierd that I would have kept going for a bit, anyhow.

Pacatrue, I believe 4 year olds could be obsessive. I obsessively collected cigarette boxes at that age. Mom found the stash and it broke my heart (for about five minutes) then I started a new one. There's plenty of documentation about toddlers having obsessions. Kids playing with matches is one.

Bernita said...

Very cleverly written.
Still I am not entranced by yet-another version of belly-button lint.

ScienceSleuth said...

The writing is pretty good, but I think this is a case of too much detail. Yes, using a close-up lens can be very effective, but you need to know which details to focus on and which to exclude. This reminds me of an expertly set up shot where the cameraman mistook the understudy for the star.

I agree with pacatrue that a 4 year old wouldn't notice such detail, and an adult wouldn't remember it decades later.