The world was crumbling, metaphorically. Though if you had told anyone that it was crumbling, metaphorically, they probably would have wondered what metaphorically meant. Alliteration, allusion, allegory; all of these literary terms were dead, defunct. In fact, not a single book or essay had been written in 73 years. yes, the world was at a literary standstill, that is, until Charles Kenan came along. Kenan was nothing much to look at, a grizzled old man. had to have been at least eighty, what was left of his thinning hair was Snow White and so dry a stray spark would have set his whole head ablaze. As I say, Kenan was not much to look at, but quite simply it was the voice of an angel that flowed from his lips. The stories that man told could have moved mountains. Grown men were reduced to tears, the heartiest and thickest skinned women fainted from fear.
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Maybe this is a literary dystopia. Soft or social science fiction emphasizes fantastical social sciences. Social sciences may foreground or background dystopias. In a critical analysis, literary disciplines are social sciences, much to the dismay of literary scholars.
This opening doesn't persuade me to read on, doesn't overcome my initial and natural resistance. Mostly backstory, narrator summary lecturing, tell, and the smallest hint of a complication, that of a literary standstill. A literary standstill is on the intangible and abstract side for a complication.
Ray Bradbuy's Farenheit 451, a dsytopia, has similar premises with strong and tangible causality. Totalitarian censorship brought about by television entertainments causing the death of creative expression and literary culture through mass culture's majority rules force majeur impositions are the three main premises. However, fire departments burning books and readers causes much of the tangible dramatic action.
If Charles Keenan has a tangible public and personal want or problem, like Bradbury's Guy Montag does, developed in this opening, I might care more about him and be more curious to read on.
I'm also not engaged by the narrator, who, though strongly emotional, doesn't offer me the tangible concreteness of immersion into a physical setting. The narrator is to me a diesmbodied voice lecturing from a darkened stage to an unseen and unknown audence. I feel like I'm a bystander waiting in the wings to turn on the lights.
One diction glitch that caused me a reading hiccup: "Grown men were reduced to tears, the heartiest and thickest skinned women fainted from fear." I understand the point is to report the opposites of conventional masculinity and femininity, just the word choices feel clumsy to me. They do imply Keenan's tales are horror. It took me a moment longer to figure that out than it took to read the line, a minor hiccup. After not being particularly engaged by the prior content, that hiccup was an accumulation that put me out of the story. Edited to add: "thick[- ]skinned women" takes a hyphen.
One minor punctuation glitch: "the world was at a literary standstill, that is, until Charles Kenan came along. "That is" conventionally used as a prepositional restrictive phrase follows a semicolon or em-dash: //standstill; that is, until// or //standstill—that is, until//. Though a comma is often used instead of a semicolon or em-dash in that case, the stronger pauses of, respectively, a semicolon or an em-dash signal emphasis. Semicolons, dashes, and the like are more sophisticated punctuation than commas, and often used in scholarly writing; in prose, sophisticated punctuation use's singular strength is signaling emotional emphasis. I feel that sentence is stronger using a semicolon or em-dash.
The strongest strength for me is the narrator's emerging emotional attitude.
Consider me vaguely interested, but not convinced to read on. Let me focus on the first and last sentences.
The first sentence is awkward, metaphorically lumpy. "The world was crumbling, metaphorically." The idea that it introduces is intriguing but the comma acts like a hiccup that pulls me away. The "metaphorically" hangs at the end like it wants to introduce a joke, but there's no punchline. I don't know what to suggest except that you might try it the other way around: "Metaphorically, the world was crumbling." This is superior because the idea you are introducing is not "the world" but "metaphor" -- you are about to talk to us about metaphor and now you've got it right up and front for us to see. But then again, "crumbling" doesn't really seem like the right word end with. What crumbles? Bread, concrete, stone, etc. Is that the right metaphor? I think I'd like a different one.
The last sentence is a problem for me. "Moving mountains" and "fainting from fear" are so familiar and so often used that you only want to use them if you are using them in a context that really demands them. Otherwise, they sound cliched. Also, "heartiest and thickest-skinned women" sets up a confusing image that you might be able to have fun with, but I'm not convinced by the time you get there that anything fun is going to come of it.
Perhaps I just dig the "old storyteller" type, but I find Kenan interesting, even though I think his description needs to be toned down.
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