August 22, 2005
Laz asked Will to toss him the salt, fully aware of what his request would invite.
A smile slid across Will’s thin cheeks. His fork clattered onto his plate. He snatched the hourglass salt/pepper shaker and lobbed it across the dining room table before his wife, Nell, could speak. Her impending protest disappeared in a gasp as she watched one of her prized knick-knacks arc end over end, glinting in the orange candlelight as it passed over the place settings.
Her fears were groundless. Without looking up from his soup, Laz caught the shaker in his free hand and used it.
Will pounded on the table with laughter. Nell closed her mouth, rolled her eyes, and then joined her husband’s mirth. Lazarus conceded a smile but allowed nothing else to mar his dry façade.
This stolid demeanor came easy to him. Will and Nell were his closest friends. Spending time with them brought his only joy over the last four years. But even this joy couldn’t touch the melancholy at his core. A painful vacuum that made keeping a dead, unresponsive manner during a joke as easy as screaming when you pound your thumb with a hammer.
Laz wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and pushed his plate away. He stared at the white tablecloth. Nell asked him how was it. He said it was okay.
Nell took a deep breath. She couldn't believe they kept inviting this ungrateful, miserable fucker over; it was like he wanted to get under their skin. She glared at Will. Will looked at Laz and offered him more Chateau Latour. "I want root beer," he said.
Nell jumped up, grabbed a bottle from the fridge and pitched it across the room. Laz didn't even try to catch it. It caught him right on the temple and he keeled over backwards. Suicide by pop.
Opening: Gareth Bendall.....Continuation: ril
August 22, 2005 is an important day. Johnny Lee Hooker was born. A huge double coronal mass ejection occurred on the sun. Little Bobby whacked off two before breakfast. In 392 - Arbogast has Eugenius elected Western Roman Emperor. But the most important event was the Olympic salt and pepper shaker toss that resulted in a tremendous psychological breakthrough for Lazarus. He discovered that he really was dead. His stolid, lethargic and silent behavior only came about because he was a corpse, an animate corpse -- thankfully and not a brain-eating zombie, or a flesh rotting stinkpot, but a mere corpse.
As Will and Nell are Laz's best friends, it seems odd that Laz is fully aware of what his request for the salt will invite, and is correct, while Nell is caught off guard enough to gasp. Has she not seen this act numerous times over the years?
This is Laz from Face-Lift 497, who apparently commits suicide by cop, but turns up at the Fountain of Youth, right? Dinner with Will and Nell shows Laz's melancholy, but so would Noah finding Laz's suicide note. Suspense over whether the prized salt shaker will survive isn't as dramatic. On the other hand, if you start with the suicide note, we don't discover that Laz is, in reality, Peripheral Vision Man, class B superhero.
Paragraph five is an info-dump full of telling. It sits badly with the previous paragraphs. Further, it's a point at which a lot of people will stop reading.
The "stolid demeanor came easy to him" followed by "keeping a dead, unresponsive manner during a joke as easy as screaming when you pound your thumb with a hammer" struck me as a bit of melodrama and made me side very much with Nell in the continuation. (great job, ril)
Why the date/time stamp AND the sunset notation? If the moment of sunset is going to play a role, then the story should show that. Otherwise 8.20 suffices.
I don't quite see what's so funny in this situation. Tossing the shaker I get, but why does that cause Will to "pound the table with laughter?"
For many years, in fact from college, every time I read a book that begins each chapter with a date for a italicized quote or (worst of all) some philosopher bloviating some obscure philosophical point, I do two things:
1) if it is more than 150 words, put the book down
2) ignore it and read straight into the text.
I HAD to take a course in basic philosophy in college and most of what is stuck in front of chapters in books is metaphysical manure. Sorry to sound so snotty and arrogant. It's really hard to create those openings to each chapter.
How about "Laz sat at the dining table with his back to the picture window. He was a gray splotch of non-color spoiling the golds and oranges of the hot August sun setting behind him."
Let me ask a question about the opening. Would any other day in August work in the story? Is dinner held at any other time than sunset and 8:20 pm? Would a sunset at 7:30 be important? how about 6:20 in October? I suspect that the answer to all of these questions is "no, it's not that important." Yet, the author feels compelled to tell the reader the date.
As for Laz's mental state, the reader only learns about Laz from his reaction to Will's cheerful, playfulness. Will animates the act of throwing the salt shaker and Laz just catches it without reaction giving the author a chance to explain his stolid demeanor. It's a cute scene but it could do more than just introduce Laz the depressed lump.
And what bugs me more are these two lines:
1) conceded a smile but allowed nothing else to mar his dry façade
2) keeping a dead, unresponsive manner during a joke
Rather than two statements of the same mannerisms. how about two different examples. Have Will or Nell ask Laz about an increasingly uncharacteristic unemotional reaction. LAz is getting ready to "off himself." He's either going to go manic and seem out of character, or withdraw inwardly and be even more unresponsive. Why not show that in a conversation with his friends?
Maybe you could start later in the story to better effect. That joke wasn't funny to me, and stoic suicidal gloom is the absolute worst kind of monotony, so if you could just skip that whole subplot and put the fountain of youth jungle swamp adventure on page 1, I'd be more likely to read on.
Smiles slide, forks clatter, protests disappear while impending, mirth is joined, another smile is conceded, a dry facade is marred, demeanours are stolid, dead unresponsive manners are kept...
Sorry, but for me, everything's happening a crisp crunchy crackety wafer's width away from where it needs to be - and I'm too distracted to listen out further.
I very much like your opening line.
I got tripped up by the second paragraph. I had to reread a time or two to catch the action there, and it feels like it's maybe a 'trying too hard' issue - that's the way I would describe it, anyway.
I was back in your story in the third and fourth paragraph, and was engaged, although I think stopping with: Lazarus condeded a smile - and leaving out the mar of his facade, is a leaner, stronger sentence for what looks to be your style, and isn't telling the reader what to think, but instead, leading to them to think it, which I feel would work better for you.
I had a stopped, chopped feeling in the fifth paragraph - but I think there's an easy fix - at least in my mind - just by changing the sentence structure.
"This stolid demeanor came easy to him. Will and Nell were his closest friends. Spending time with them brought his only joy over the last four years, but even this joy couldn’t touch the melancholy at his core, a painful vacuum that made keeping a dead, unresponsive manner during a joke as easy as screaming when you pound your thumb with a hammer."
So- I really like your opening- but I think the second para needs a redo to make it more readable, and I'd simply chop off one sentence in the fourth, and tweak your fifth - not with word changes, but with the structure of it.
Hope this helps!
Oh- by the way- I don't mind date and time stamps as long as there's a reason for them, and I'm guessing you have one.
Good one, ril, as per usual!
I kind of like the situation and the guys' familiarity with one another, but Nell's laugh seemed at odds with her apparent tension.
I'm wondering if you might think about trimming some adjectives, because this did seem to be a tricky read.
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