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Old Man



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Thu Aug 25, 2011 6:04 am
joshuapaul says...



Spoiler! :
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Old Man


I killed a lamb last week. Paula was stuffing a hind leg with garlic cloves and rosemary stalks. Her sleeves up and hair tied in a summer knot, clad for both the garden and the kitchen. I had nothing to do these days, not since I retired. Today I read my book and the paper, the sport and business, then tore it up and used it to light the fire.

My daughter and her Chink fiancé were on the way for dinner and the night. Kate had called my wife a week ago. She travelled Europe with him and he had taken a knee under the Eiffel tower. Again, her little voice came down the line from Auckland airport before they started the drive down. Paula guessed they would probably be here by seven.

***

I thought about the kill, the lamb's helpless eyes came in focus. Always the same, the body hunching over itself, the head flapping back. Years ago it wasn't that easy.

“Who’s that coming up the drive,” Paula called from the kitchen, snatching me from daydream. I watched the car through the blinds, a silver, slick, Jap model with small wheels. A firm knock came at the door. I placed my glasses on the kauri table in the den and moved to the foyer. Paula held the door and my daughter shuffled in with a suitcase, then she moved into Paula's arms and tears started at the corners of her eyes. Her hands moved up and down Paula’s back then she stepped towards me.

"Dad," she said, warmly taking my arms around her waist.

He came through, case under a lean taut arm. He pulled my wife in introducing himself, then grinned and stretched out his hand. I took it. His dark pupils slyly found mine, and his grip was firm. Skin stretched across the hard, hair-free cheek bones. Swept across his forehead, a black fringe fell.

“Ung-So, it’s lovely to meet you Mr. Phillips.”

“Call me Tatai,” I said, pressing the door closed.

He carried a woman’s scent, perhaps it came from my daughter.

Kate put her notebook computer on the dinner table and, undistracted by the languid strokes of my carving knife, they all watched. With every click, my wife Ooh’d and Aah’d at the photographs of grand churches and those ghastly pyramids outside the Louvre. We had seen most of it, but that was a long time ago now. From a long neck, the boy’s head hovered over my daughter's shoulder, lips licked, mouth in a sappy half-grin.

“It’s all ready, do you want to start serving up, Paula?” The plates were set at the table, piled with a steaming mess of veg-garden and home-kill. Using my oak cane for support, I gently lowered myself onto the chair. Then Paula, swift like a lioness, batted my hand, caught half way to the gravy.

“You know you can’t touch that, not with your heart.” I slowly retracted, lips tight keeping the frown inside. The Chink gobbled down the entire meal as though he hadn’t eaten in weeks.

“You can eat, boy.”

“Oh, ah, thanks.” He paused to swallow a mouthful of water. Kate and Paula glared at me with eyebrows high, and noses creased. Looking at me like that, they could have been twins, if you tightened Paula’s skin and took my daughter's colour, I mean.


“This is a lovely house you have, Mr. Phillips.”

“I built most of it myself.”

“Oh that’s interesting; Kate mentioned you’re a bit of a handyman.”

“Well I wouldn’t go so far as to-“

“-Don’t be modest, Tatai. You know he did most of the electrical fittings and plumbing himself too.”

“Oh wow, that’s amazing.” The boy exaggerated.

“So where are you from, boy?”

“Wellington, Sir,” he said, then forked a few more slices of lamb.

“OK, but where were you from?” The girls stopped eating in my unfocussed outer gaze, I could feel the same look from them; this time they held it a little longer. I revealed my wrists and lifted my brow, as if to ask ‘What?’

“Originally, my parents came from Korea.”

“Korea,” I thought a moment and continued, “And what brought you to our great country?” His gaze moved to my daughter, and a dopey grin started at the edges of his mouth.

“I guess my parents just realised how amazing this country really is.”

“Compared to?”

“Korea.”

“Oh, well I haven’t been to Asia since the Vietnam war, so I wouldn’t know.” Kate’s knife and fork clanked against the china and that look came again.

“Who wants pudding?” Paula asked as she swiftly stood, forcing her seat into a slide.

Silence lingered and when Paula returned from the kitchen, she brought with her a sweet cinnamon scent wofting from a dish of crisscrossed pastry and sliced apple. She served it up and heaped the whipped cream into all the bowls except mine.

“So what was your favourite city of the trip?” Paula asked, turning to the boy. He eyed Kate, then with spoon in one hand and scratching along his jaw with the other, he spoke.

“Paris was definitely my favourite place.”

“Oh how wonderful. Tatai and I stayed in Paris for a week when we were younger. I loved it, so beautiful.”

“I didn’t care much for it,” I said, between hot mouthfuls.

“And are you going back to work?" my wife continued, glancing away my input with the roll of her eyes.

“Next week, that’s the beauty of my job, I can go back to practicing at any time, really.”

“So Dad, how is retired life?” Kate started.

“It’s fine, I don’t have much to do now. I just walk about the farm, shooting the rabbits.”

Kate pushed me with more questions about retired life and asked about her aunts and uncles. I took a moment to let my gut catch up to my mouth, glancing down at the half-full bowl, then over at the boy's dry bowl. He dropped his spoon against the china and his eyes finding Paula.

“That was a delicious pudding Mrs. Phillips, and the dinner was amazing too.”

“And most of the veg’s are from my garden,” Paula boasted, lines seaming from the edges of her eyes. She then dashed around collecting the plates and offered my daughter and the boy a glass of wine. Kate asked,

“I’ll have a red, Merlot if you have it? Do you want a glass of water, Hun?”

“Yeah I will have water, if you don’t mind?”

Conversation continued at the dinner table for a short while longer. I added my thoughts occasionally but, I couldn’t speak without letting my lip curl and eye’s narrow. He laughed too loud. I found myself staring at his wrists,I could see them snapping back under an armload of firewood or a summer bale. And his body, tapered in at the hips.

With every joke, my wife threw back her head in a snort of laughter and each time I neglected to laugh, my daughter gave me that look, staring at me like a hideous slug was moving along the ridge of my nose.

“We should take care of these dishes,” my wife finally said, bringing conversation to a halt.

They disappeared with the plates in the kitchen and Paula called, “Why don’t you take Ung-So on the grand tour, Tatai?”

I stood with cane in hand. “Come on then.”

His face washed with wide-eyed-confusion, and then he stood following my silent trail. I moved through the foyer, taking my daughter’s suitcase as I passed. In my wake he skulked. Flicking lights on and off as we went, I showed him the den, the TV lounge, the guest bedroom and ensuite, and finally the pool room, noting it was once Kate’s nursery.

We reached the crest of the steps after a few careful half strides and his Chink hand occasionally pressed on my lower back.

“That one’s our room,” I said, pointing at the first door. We moved up the hall, I reached in to the next room and found the light switch. “This is Kate’s old room.”

Shirtless men, crudely cut, still tacked to the wall. I watched the boy, running his gaze along her bookshelf library, Wolfe and Picoult, well read by age ten. He scanned the framed and hung sepia-tone memories of high school balls - being head girl, she attended several. Strung from the wall, above her pink bed, her ballet shoes fell. We stood, shoulders almost touching, staring at the only photo unstained by sunlight. Our little girl jammed beneath my shoulder. Held in one arm was a framed degree and in the other her mother’s waist. All grins, all those years ago.

“Wow Kate’s hair was so long.”

“Yeah,” I said without effort, though he may have heard it uncouth.

I lead him to the deck, overlooking the farm. From the hills, washed in receding pine, to the gully, dotted with a moonlit flock. I jerked my head, before I walked down the stairs. The girls sat with a teapot and cups. Paula’s eyes found mine, her head tilted toward the den, a tacit command.

“Have a seat.”

He fell into the red leather antique and stared at the open fire. I walked to my father’s old sideboard and poured a couple of fingers of whiskey.

“You want a whiskey, boy?”

His back straightened.

“No thanks, I don’t drink.”

I winced as my rusty knees finally bent. The fire casted dancing figures around the walls and the boys’ eyes were dark, shadowed like canyons.

“Can I ask you something, sir?” he began. I swallowed a taste of whiskey and nodded. “Oh-” he paused and his eyes moved from the licked flames to mine, “Actually, it’s nothing.” The cool glass trembled softly in my hand and I sucked a wheezy chest of air.

He sat stiff, then unbuttoned his shirt collar, and hunched over his knees. A small glistening silver chain fell, spinning and rocking. He quickly snatched it back in his shirt.

“You a Christian, Boy?” I watched him with a firm glare, and my heart came on fast. The weight in my throat cleared with a pat on the chest and a hard cough. “Why did you hide it away?”

Somewhere beyond the flames he stared, eyes unfocussed, vacant.

“I don’t know, Sir.”

“What do you mean you don’t know? You don't know why you're ashamed of it or if you’re a Christian?”

"I ah-" he began but stopped, swallowing the words, his eyes stayed still, voided by the flames allure.

He let it slip and I watched it twist and bounce, shining and twirling against the light. Suddenly, I was conscious of my own crucifix, I quickly ran my hand over it like a tongue over a capped tooth and again the lamb's cold helpless eyes flashed. The last jolts of life. The thudding organic metronome coming fast, then not at all.

Together we stared through the flames. The fire cracked and spat sparks against the grill, the popping and rustling grew so loud I couldn’t hear my thoughts. I heaved myself from the chair. The last finger of whiskey went down in one mouthful and I walked behind my seat, leaving the boy steeped in fire light.
Last edited by joshuapaul on Sat Aug 27, 2011 9:25 am, edited 16 times in total.
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Thu Aug 25, 2011 6:45 am
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confetti says...



blue- suggestions
green- comments
red- grammatical

Paula called from the Kitchen. I watched the car

Not sure why you capitalized kitchen.
at the photographs of grand churches and those ghastly pyramids outside the Louvre.

Made me chuckle. So true.
“Wellington, Sir,he said, then forked a few more slices of lamb.

Kate pushed me with more questions about retired life and asked about her aunts and uncles.

then over at the boys’ boy's dry bowl.

boys' would mean that there's more than one boy.
“That was a delicious pudding Mrs. Phillips, and the Dinner was amazing too.”

Like with the kitchen, not sure why you capitalized dinner here.
“- (where did this dash come from?) And most of the veg’s are from my garden,”

Kate asked, “Red or white?”

“Not a problem Ung-So.”

With every joke, my wife threw back her head in a snort of laughter and each time I neglected to laugh, my daughter

In my wake he skulked, through the bottom story.

You lost me a little here.
high school balls - being head girl, she attended several.

“Wow, Kate’s hair was so long.”

“No thanks, I don’t drink.”

“Can I ask you something, Sir?” he began.

“Actually, it’s nothing.”


Feeling a tad nitpicky today.
The first line of the story did pull me in, I mean, how many stories start with the death of a lamb? But I found that the next couple paragraphs were bland compared to the rest of the story. This was a very enjoyable read - a simple plot and beautiful, well-flowing writing. I found the ending interesting, (I'm not sure if I completely understood what you were getting at, but I'm sure it was just me), the way you left it practically wide open.
This was very well done, I aspire to write this well in the future, hope this review helped. Cheers.
"So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads."
— Dr. Seuss

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Thu Aug 25, 2011 7:10 am
joshuapaul says...



Oh Confetti, you have ousted me. It's my nemesis, capitalized words mid sentence, so allusive under my careful editing eyes. Thanks for the nitpicks, I will amend it now.
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Thu Aug 25, 2011 5:45 pm
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DeathlyHallow says...



Wow!! this isn something i wud normally read bt it is so profesional an so hard to stop reading, so good work joshua ;)
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Thu Aug 25, 2011 7:34 pm
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Chicken says...



I don't normally read these sorts of storys but i found it was really well written and I think this type of writing is defenty for you! Keep writing
  





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Thu Aug 25, 2011 11:45 pm
Formslipper says...



I read it, and WOW. This seriously felt professional, and actually a lot better than most books I've read. I have no criticism, except what's with the Christian theme near the end? It just seemed random- almost weird- in an otherwise effortlessly awesome piece.
  





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Fri Aug 26, 2011 5:45 pm
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sargsauce says...



Agreed with confetti. The first line gives the false allure of a hook, but then there's nothing to substantiate it and then we're just watching someone cook and read the newspaper. It could work if you tied it into the theme or characterization. The narrator is an old, proud, set in his ways, do-it-yourself kind of guy. Take us back to that moment. He's kneeling next to the body, its open throat is steaming in the chill air, he wipes a bit of snot and trades it for a smear of blood across his face.

Her tanned face sat on Paula's shoulder and tears started at the corners of her eyes. Hands moved up and down Paula's back then she stepped towards me.

This line is strange. You neglect to mention it's Kate's face. And that Paula answered the door. And having someone's face sitting on someone else's shoulder is a strange wording for a hug.

Hands moved up and down Paula's back then she stepped towards me.

Again, these disembodied parts of Kate's body interacting with Paula are weird. The phrasing makes me think of floating hands ineffectually floating up and down someone's body.

The boy's head floated over my daughter's shoulder

Again, weird body parts. Just say "The boy hovered over her shoulder..." or something.

I gently lowered myself onto the chair. Then, swift like a lioness,

Not a big problem, but as one reads this, the instinct is to think that the narrator "gently lowers himself into the chair then [moves] swift like a lioness." I know it only takes a fraction of a second to read onward to discover that it's Paula doing the moving, but there's just a bit of a disconnect there.

Don't be modest, Tatai. You know he did most of the electrical fittings and plumbing himself too.

It's not that important, but we're given no indication of who says this.

"So where are you from, boy?"
"Wellington, Sir," he said, then forked a few more slices of lamb.
"OK, but where were you from?"

Haha! I love it because it's so true. I feel like only Asians ever get this "where are you from/where are your parents from" kind of thing. No one ever says that to a European fellow, to investigate whether he's from Romania or Moldova or Slovakia. It's so strange.

Oh, well I haven't been to Asia since the Vietnam War, so I wouldn't know.

Another great line. Though, more realistically, he would probably say, "I haven't been to Asia since Vietnam" because it's rather a given what old American men mean when they say "Vietnam." Or even "Nam" if they're so lazy and versed in "the lingo."

By the way, the "Tatai" thing seems strange to me. This guy's a "full-blooded" American sort, right? Judging by the Vietnam War thing. What's up with "Tatai"?

a sweet cinnamon scent permeating from a dish of crisscrossed pastry and sliced apple.

Just quick note. "Permeate" means to "spread throughout." Like to permeate a room. Or permeate a bodypart. Or permeate a towel. But things don't permeate from things.

She served it up and heaped the whipped cream into all the bowls except mine.

I like the little dietary-habit jabs at him.

"So what was your favourite city of the trip?"

Oh, and also, between this and "colour", I know it doesn't necessarily have to be written by an American to be about Americans. But to read a story about this stubborn, old American guy, it's strange to see the spellings with the U, since Americans would be caught dead before spelling it "favourite" or "colour."

"Paris was definitely my favourite place."
"Oh how wonderful. Tatai and I stayed in Paris for a week when we were younger. I loved it, so beautiful."
"I didn't care much for it," I said, between hot mouthfuls.
"And are you going back to work?"
"Next week, that's the beauty of my job, I can go back to practicing at any time, really."
"So Dad, how is retired life?"
"It's fine, I don't have much to do now. I just walk about the farm, shooting the rabbits."

We've got a bit of a "talking head" situation here. Especially with 4 people, it adds to the juggling act. Anyway, what I mean by talking heads is that we get a ratatat of dialogue without a sense of scene or reactions or human beings.

her Aunts and Uncles

Not capitalized, since they don't refer to a specific one. Like "her Aunt Jemima" is capitalized. But not "her aunt, Jemima."

“That was a delicious pudding Mrs. Phillips, and the dinner was amazing too.”

Again, just a bit of floating dialogue. We infer from the "Mrs. Phillips" who it is, but it still kind of just floats up.

Kate asked, “Red or white?”
“Either dear.”
“I’ll have a red, Merlot if you have it? Do you want a glass of water, Hun?”
“Yeah I will have water, if you don’t mind?”
“Not a problem Ung-So.”

Hmm...depending on how you want this section to function, it could be rather throwaway. On one hand, yes, you're showing that Paula is hospitable and kind and that Ung-So isn't a fan of alcohol (though you get to do that later, with the whiskey). But on the other, it's very dry and boring to read. Especially the "red or white" "either" "Merlot". It's akin to writing out the dialogue for an order at the Waffle House.
"I'll have the egg platter."
"How do you want your eggs?"
"Poached."
"We don't do poached."
"Scrambled."
"Butter or jelly?"
"Do you have strawberry jelly?"
"Yes."
"Strawberry."

He laughed too loud. I could barely keep my brows from converging or my scowl concealed.

"He laughed too loud" is okay, because it illustrates an actual thought the narrator has.
"I couldn't not converge my brows and scowl" isn't okay, because he wouldn't actually think that in his mind, would he? He wouldn't actually say to himself, "I can't not scowl." Instead, he might list off more things he dislikes about Ung-So. His feminine wrists, the build of a prepubescent boy, etc etc.

Conversation finally halted when my wife spoke.

It makes it sound like she never said anything in the conversation before then.

“Why don’t you two make yourself more comfortable by the fire in the lounge, or Tatai perhaps you could show Ung-So around the house?”

Eh, if I were Tatai, I would say, "We'll sit by the fire and not talk, then."

The crest of the steps came after a few careful half strides

Not really clear on what you're saying here.

Framed and hung, his eyes moved

The wording suggests that his eyes were framed and hung. Similarly, "Out of breath, I stumbled to the finish line" or "Bored out of my mind, I counted the ceiling tiles." But not "Beaten and bloody, the cop looked at the victim."

Our little girl’s blonde head jammed beneath my shoulder.

Again, weird disembodied body parts. And this one is the most violent of them all o_o

I winced as my rusty knees finally bent. The fire casted dancing figures around the walls and the boys’ eyes were dark, shadowed like canyons.

Great.

“Can I ask you something, Sir?”

I think the official ruling is that "sir" isn't capitalized. Don't ask why, since one might think given the proper pronoun rules or whatever, but because it's a simple courtesy, it's treated differently.

He unbuttoned his shirt collar, and hunched over his knees.

Can you at least give us a frame of what he was in the act of doing? This seems rather sudden and forced.

“You a Christian, Boy?” I watched him with a firm glare, and my heart came on fast.

The "heart came on fast" suddenly makes this scene startlingly important. Granted, it's important. But the reader's immediate impression is akin to a gasp, or a heart skipping a beat, or something.

I heaved myself from Paula’s chair.

Paula's chair? Why is it Paula's chair?

So, overall. The dialogue is great. Just mind the talking heads, and give the characters a little play when dialogue is occurring. I might have liked to see a couple deep lines at the end. Something honest exchanged in words as an offering, instead of just the silent fire stare.

The action is good. Paced, thoughtful. It just gets a little awkward sometimes. Like trying to figure out what to do with your hands while you're talking to someone. Just trying to put them somewhere. Not let them hang limply but feeling terribly weird if you cross them or put them in your pockets. Oh no. Now I'm thinking about what I should do with my hands while talking to someone! Anyway, what I mean is to have a purpose. Have a goal or a mood or an idea you want to convey instead of just conveying what is happening. Usually, you do, so good! But there were times when it faltered and just seemed to be there because it was there.
  





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Fri Aug 26, 2011 6:48 pm
joshuapaul says...



Wow thanks Sarg, I've taken it all to heart and amended it. Will PM response.

Just an A/N for future reviewers, it's set in NZ so terms like 'the vietnam war' are used over 'nam' or 'vietnam.'

Thanks again everybody for your insight.
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Sat Aug 27, 2011 7:32 pm
goofysmurf1 says...



I read it, and WOW. This seriously felt professional, and actually a lot better than most books I've read. I have no criticism, except what's with the Christian theme near the end? It just seemed random- almost weird- in an otherwise effortlessly awesome piece.
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Sat Aug 27, 2011 8:52 pm
Kylan says...



I may decide to critique this with a more appraising eye at a later time, but I wanted to finally read through a short story of yours. I found the piece quite enjoyable -- you conjure a couple of delightful characters, particularly the narrator. I do believe that you brandish a little symbolism here, specifically through the lamb motif coupled with the Christian theme. Christ is often described as a lamb led to slaughter, though lambs were also used as sacrifices in the Old Testament. You could potentially factor in the lamb's-blood on doorpost anecdote from Moses' exodus. It's interesting that you decide to so loosely toss this symbol around -- a symbol with many connotations, though without much context. The theme, of course, is "overcoming prejudice" -- a sample from your own contest, though certainly with more length latitude -- and so perhaps, if you have intended the lamb to serve as focal point (what with your impacting opening line), you might want to consider tying it in throughout the piece with a little more care, specifically at the end. Where is the sacrifice occurring? Who is the Christ figure? What Angel of Death is being fended off? These are just speculations on my part, but I would ask for more clarity.

Otherwise, an engaging story. Well-written and intelligent.

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Sun Aug 28, 2011 12:43 am
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JabberHut says...



Hey, Joshua! Sorry it took me longer than planned. The other day, I decided it's just been long enough to where waiting for the Review Day wouldn't hurt too much more!

I very much enjoyed your story. I very much enjoyed the narrator. I thought his voice was spectacular, and it was enjoyable to read. The other characters were also very good.

I'm not sure if anyone else had this problem, for lack of a better word, so maybe it's just me? But in the beginning, I got a bit lost as to who was doing what and which person was who and who was related how and -- well, you get it. xD Eventually, I figured it out. I think the use of all those pronouns in the beginning threw off my groove there. Still, thought I'd mention! Otherwise, the dialogue was good!

I wasn't sure I liked how the piece ended, but then again, I'm not sure how else I would suggest ending it? Now, I absolutely love how you worked in the lamb and Christianity bits. That tied up so wonderfully at the end, but I feel like there wasn't enough foreshadowing to hint at it? I don't know how to explain. The piece itself didn't seem to indicate that it was about religion at all, but more accepting other cultures. Maybe play with that more? If that made any sense to you whatsoever. I just wasn't entirely satisfied as I would have liked to be by the time I finished. I got a couple goosebumps? But not enough to indicate it was truly fantastic. /stopsjabbering

But honestly! I did enjoy your piece, and I can tell a lot of thought went into this. I think it's brilliant and just shy of masterpiece. There were some grammar clunkers in there that a thorough edit would help with so as the reading itself doesn't get awkward, but that aside, you've got good things here. Great job!

Keep writing!

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Sun Aug 28, 2011 9:58 am
Demeter says...



Hi there, Joshua! Here as you requested :).


I killed a lamb last week.


I loooove this opening sentence. Love it. Creepy as it may be.


You know you can’t touch that


Stop. Mr Phillips time. (... >.>)


I lead him to the deck, overlooking the farm
.

"Led", I believe.


Joshua, I love this story. I have nothing that I didn't like about it, and I don't have any real nitpicks either -- not that they would help you that much anyway. You're a really good writer. The dialogue felt real, and all the characters had their own voice -- they were people instead of just names. Everything just seemed extremely real. I have a feeling this will be a useless review. I'm nearly ashamed not to have anything more concrete to say, but just know I enjoyed this. Please tell me whenever you'd like a review, because I will gladly read anything you write!


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Wed Aug 31, 2011 10:33 pm
Kafkaescence says...



Here as requested! I think a nitpick review will serve my purposes best here.

joshuapaul wrote:I killed a lamb last week. See, you say this, and it's a great first sentence in itself, but you fail to follow up on it. The first image is bound to stick in the reader's mind. Switching from one thing to a very different one in the first two sentences of a story like this doesn't tend to feel particularly inviting. Paula was stuffing a hind leg with garlic cloves and rosemary stalks. Her sleeves were up and hair was tied in a summer knot , clad for both the garden and the kitchen. I had nothing to do these days, not since I retired. Today I read my book and the paper, the sports and business sections, then tore it up Awkwardly phrased, and even then grammatically incorrect. You name two subjects - the book and the paper - and then say that you tore it - singular - up. What is it, the book or the paper? Definitely reword this. and used it to light the fire.

My daughter and her Chink fiancé were on the way for dinner and the night "And the night"..."And the night"...what? You mean they're spending the night, don't you. Yeah, that should be much easier to grasp. . Kate had called my wife a week ago. She travelled traveled around Europe with him and he had taken a knee under the Eiffel tower. Again, her little voice came down the line from Auckland airport before they started the drive down. Paula guessed they would probably be here by seven.

***

I thought about the kill, about the lamb's helpless eyes came in focus. Always the same: the body hunching over itself, the head flapping back. Years ago it wasn't that easy.

“Who’s that coming up the drive?” Paula called from the kitchen, snatching me from daydream. I watched the car through the blinds - With a comma, you could just as well have been describing the blinds. a silver, slick, Jap model with small wheels. A firm Already have enough adjectives in these few sentences. knock came at the door. The moment the car pulled in? Wow, she must have teleported or something. I placed my glasses on the kauri table in the den and moved to the foyer. Paula held the door and my daughter shuffled in with a suitcase, then she moved before moving (Moving? I'm sure you can think up a better verb than that!) into Paula's arms; and tears started at the corners of her eyes. Her hands moved up and down Paula’s back, then she stepped towards me.

"Dad," she said, warmly taking my arms around her waist.

He I know your referring to him using only pronouns is a tactic thing, purposeful, but it doesn't particularly work, at least for me. I really think it'd sound better if you just used his name, or at least "her fiancé" or something. came through the doorway, his case balanced under a lean taut Don't need a double adjective. This would sound better if you just picked one or the other. arm. He pulled my wife in, (In? In where? In his case? I'm confused.) introducing introduced himself, then grinned and stretched out his hand. I took it. His dark pupils slyly found mine, and his grip was firm. Skin stretched across the hard, hair-free cheekbones. Swept across his forehead, a black fringe fell. This makes no sense. I have no idea what to picture here.

“Ung-So Erm, is that his name? Then please make this clearer. Is it a greeting? Italicize it. As it is, I can't make anything of it. , (I think that this comma should be a period, but I'm really not sure because I don't know what the "Ung-So" is. it’s lovely to meet you, Mr. Phillips.”

“Call me Tatai,” I said, pressing the door closed shut. I didn't even know he was by the door.

He carried a woman’s scent, perhaps it came from my daughter. Doesn't add anything to the story. All this does is show that Tatai doesn't know what his daughter smells like.
Kate put her notebook computer on the dinner table and, undistracted by the languid strokes of my carving knife, they all watched All watched...what?. With every click With every click of what? Are they taking pictures? Or do you mean to say that for some odd reason she just decided to start keeping time to the clicks of Tatai's carving knife? , my wife Ooh’d and Aah’d at the photographs of grand churches and those ghastly "Ghastly?" Not quite the right word. pyramids outside the Louvre. We had seen most of it, but that was a long time ago now. From a long neck, the boy’s head hovered over my daughter's shoulder, lips licked Verbs taking the place of adjectives can be confusing, and this is no exception. Try "thin.", mouth in a sappy half-grin.

“It’s all ready; do you want to start serving up, Paula?” The plates were set at the table, piled with asteaming messes of veg-garden and home-kill. Using my oak cane for support, I gently lowered myself onto the chair. Then Paula, swift like as a lioness, batted my hand, caught half way to the gravy.

“You know you can’t touch that, not with your heart.” I slowly retracted, lips tight keeping the frown inside. The Chink gobbled down the entire meal as though he hadn’t eaten in weeks.

“You can eat, boy.” 1) Who said that? and 2) What the heck? Is he/she being sarcastic? It's hard to tell.

“Oh, ah, thanks.” He paused to swallow a mouthful of water. Kate and Paula glared at me with eyebrows high, and noses creased Try raising your eyebrows and creasing your nose at the same time. Yeah. Doesn't work. . Looking at me like that, they could have been twins, if you tightened Paula’s skin and [took my daughter's colour] Took it where? And what do you mean by color - dark or light skin? , I mean.


“This is a lovely house you have, Mr. Phillips.” Oh? Does Paula not own it as well?

“I built most of it myself.”

Oh, that’s interesting. Kate mentioned you’re a bit of a handyman.”

“Well I wouldn’t go so far as to-“

“-Don’t be modest, Tatai. You know, (insert fiancé's name), he did most of the electrical fittings and plumbing himself too,said...?

Oh wow, That’s amazing.” The boy exaggerated.

“So where are you from, boy?” said...?

“Wellington, Sir,” he said replied, then forked a few more slices of lamb.

OK Okay, but where were you from?” The girls stopped eating. in my unfocussed outer gaze, I could feel the that (Just so I know what look it is you're talking about.) same look from them; this time they held it a little longer. I revealed my wrists and lifted my brow, as if to ask ‘What?’

“Originally, my parents came from Korea.” But he didn't ask him where his parents were from. He asked him where he was from.

Korea.” I thought a moment and continued, “And what brought you to our great country? Oh, clichéd, clichéd. Ugh. ” His gaze moved to my daughter, and a dopey grin started at the edges of his mouth.

“I guess my parents just realised how amazing this country really is.”

“Compared to?”

“Korea.”

“Oh, well, I haven’t been to Asia since the Vietnam war, so I wouldn’t know.” Kate’s knife and fork clanked against the china and that look came again.

“Who wants pudding?” Paula asked, as she swiftly stood, forcing her seat into a slide rising swiftly to her feet. Her chair slid back loudly.

Silence lingered and when Paula returned from the kitchen, she brought with her a sweet cinnamon scent wofting from adish of crisscrossed pastries (I'm guessing, because otherwise this would be commensurate to saying, "She brought back pastry.") and sliced apples (Same reason.) . She served it upand heaped the some whipped cream You didn't tell us she brought whipped cream. into all the bowls except mine.

“So what was your favourite city of the trip?” Paula asked, turning to the boy. He eyed Kate, then with spoon in one hand and scratching along his jaw with the other Meh. Rework this. , he spoke.

“Paris was definitely my favourite place.”

Oh, how wonderful. Tatai and I stayed in Paris for a week when we were younger. I loved it. So beautiful.”

“I didn’t care much for it,” I said, between hot mouthfuls.

“And are you going back to work?" my wife continued, glancing away my input with thea roll of her eyes.

“Next week. That’s the beauty of my job; I can go back to practicing at any time, really.” Meaningless to the reader, because we don't even know what his job is.

“So Dad, how is retired life?” Kate started.

“It’s fine. I don’t have much to do now. I just walk about around the farm, shooting the rabbits.”

Kate pushedpestered (Or something of that sort. "Pushed" doesn't work.) me with some more questions about retired life and then asked about her aunts and uncles. I took a moment to let my gut catch up to my mouth, glancing down at the half-full bowl, then over at the boy's dry bowl. He dropped his spoon against the china and his eyes findingfoundPaula.

“That was a delicious pudding, Mrs. Phillips, and the dinner was amazing, (He really likes the word "amazing," doesn't he....) too.”

“And most of the vegs are from my garden,” Paula boasted, lines seaming from the edges of her eyes. She then dashed around collecting the plates and offered my daughter and the boy a glass of wine. Kate asked,

“I’ll have a red, Merlot if you have it? Do you want a glass of water, Hun?”

Yeah I will I'll just have water, if you don’t mind.

Conversation continued at the dinner table for a short while longer. I added my thoughts occasionally, but I couldn’t speak without letting my lip curl and eyes narrow. He laughed too loud.I found myself staring at his wrists; I could see them snapping back under an armload of firewood or a summer bale. And his body, tapered in at the hips.

With every joke, my wife threw back her head in a snort of laughter and each time I neglected to laugh, my daughter gave me that look, staring at me as if a hideous slug were moving along the ridge of my "Her" would work just as well, I think. nose.

“We should take care of these dishes,” my wife finallysaid at last, bringing conversation to a halt.

They disappeared with the plates in the kitchen and Paula called, “Why don’t you take Ung-So on the grand tour, Tatai?”

I stood with cane in hand. “Come on, then.”

His face washed with wide-eyed confusion ...Why is he confused, exactly? He can speak English, can he not? , and then he stood and followed my silent trail. I moved through the foyer, taking my daughter’s suitcase as I passed. In my wake he skulked. Flicking lights on and off as we went, I showed him the den, the TV lounge, the guest bedroom and ensuite, and finally the pool room, noting that it was once Kate’s nursery.

We reached the crest of the steps after a few Only a few? careful half-strides and his Chink hand occasionally pressed on my lower back. What? Why?

“That one’s our room,” I said, pointing atto the first door. We moved up the hall. I reached into the next room and found the light switch. “This is Kate’s old room.”

Shirtless men, crudely cut, were still tacked to the wall. I watched the boy, running his gaze along her bookshelf library, Wolfe and Picoult, well read by age ten. He scanned the framed and hungsepia-tone memories of high school balls - being head girl, she attended several. Strung from the wall, above her pink bed, her ballet shoes fell. We stood, shoulders almost touching, staring at the only photo unstained by sunlight If this is the only photo that you're staring at, then how could they have noticed all the other things? Little logic blip there. . Our little girl jammed beneath my shoulder Whoa, rework. First, I can't tell whether you're talking about the picture or real life, and second, you make it sound like you're trying to strangle her. . Held in one arm was a framed degree and in the other her mother’s waist. All grins, all those years ago Again, rework. This sentence looks and sounds mightily awkward. .

Wow, Kate’s hair was so long.”

“Yeah,” I said without effort, though he may have heard it uncouth.

I leadled him to the deck, overlookingwhich overlooked the farm, from the hills, washed in receding pine, to the gully, dotted with a moonlit flock. I jerked my head, before I walked down the stairs. The girls sat Sat where? Weren't they in the kitchen? I'm extremely confused, and can't picture this scene at all. with a teapot and cups. Paula’s eyes found mine, and her head tilted toward the den, a tacit command.

“Have a seat.”

HeUng-So (Please stop referring to him as "he" when you don't need to. It's confusing and annoying.) fell into the red leather antique chair and stared at the open fire. (Now there's a fire and a leather chair? Wait, aren't they still on the deck? What happened?) I walked to my father’s old sideboard and poured a couple of fingers of whiskey.

“You want a whiskey, boy?”

His back straightened.

“No thanks, I don’t drink.”

I winced as my rusty knees finally bent. (Erm, what do you mean by this, exactly?) The fire castedcast dancing figures aroundalong the walls and the boys’ eyes were dark, shadowed like canyons.

“Can I ask you something, sir?” he began. I swallowed a taste of whiskey and nodded. “Oh-” he paused and his eyes moved from the lickedflames to mine, “Actually, it’s nothing.” The cool glass trembled softly in my hand and I sucked a wheezy chest of air.

He sat stiffly, then unbuttoned his shirt collar and hunched over dropped to his knees. A small glistening silver chain fell, spinning and rocking. He quickly snatched it back in his shirt.

“You a Christian, boy?” I watched him with a firm glare, and my heart came on fast. The weight in my throat cleared with a pat on the chest and a hard cough. “Why did you hide it away?”

Somewhere beyond the flames he stared, eyes unfocussed unfocused, vacant.

“I don’t know, Sir.”

“What do you mean you don’t know? You don't know why you're ashamed of it or if you’re a Christian?”

"I, ah-" he began, but stopped, swallowing the words. His eyes stayed still did not move, voided by the flames' allure.

He let it slip and I watched it twist and bounce, shining and twirling against the light. Suddenly, I was conscious of my own crucifix; I quickly ran my hand over it like a tongue over a capped tooth and again the lamb's cold helpless eyes flashed. The last jolts of life. The thudding organic metronome coming fast, then not at all.

Together we stared through the flames. The fire cracked and spat sparks against the grill. The popping and rustling grew so loud I couldn’t hear my thoughts. I heaved myself from the chair. The last finger of whiskey went down in one mouthful and I walked behind my seat, leaving the boy steeped in firelight.


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Thu Sep 01, 2011 10:16 am
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Rydia says...



Haiiiii just little old me :D

Line-By-Line

My daughter and her Chink fiance were on the way for dinner and the night. [Slightly awkward phrasing. Maybe simply leave it at, 'on the way for dinner'.] Kate had called my wife a week ago. She travelled Europe with him and he had taken a knee [It took me a moment to realise you meant proposed! I like it on the one side because it gives more personality to the speaker, but on the other I wonder if you can make it more readily understandable. Maybe 'had taken the knee' or 'had taken his knee' would just make it that tiny bit clearer.] under the Eiffel tower. Again, her little voice came down the line from Auckland airport before they started the drive down. Paula guessed they would probably be here by seven.


"OK [Why the choice of OK over Okay? I suppose it's personal preference but OK has always irked me when I see it in a novel/ poem.], but where were you from?" The girls stopped eating in my unfocussed outer gaze, I could feel the same look from them; this time they held it a little longer. I revealed my wrists and lifted my brow, as if to ask %u2018What?%u2019


Conversation continued at the dinner table for a short while longer. I added my thoughts occasionally but, I couldn%u2019t speak without letting my lip curl and eye's [No need for the apostrophe.] narrow. He laughed too loud. I found myself staring at his wrists,I could see them snapping back under an armload of firewood or a summer bale. And his body, tapered in at the hips.


I winced as my rusty knees finally bent. The fire casted dancing figures around the walls and the boy's eyes were dark, shadowed like canyons.


The Beginning

As the others have said, a perfect first line. But your next sentence is not only ordinary but also a little hard to place whether it's about to be a flash-back and work up to him killing the lamb, or whether it's the present. It does of course turn out to be the present but I think perhaps you need something more about the lamb first. Maybe simply a memory of draining the blood outside and how his wife wouldn't let him drain it in her nice, clean kitchen. Then you have the transition lamb to kitchen.

The Ending

It was passive which I hadn't expected and I found it to be a bit of a let down after that first line: I killed a lamb last week. I'm not sure how you wanted us to feel. To be honest I felt quiet. I'm not sure if there's another way to describe it. I'd hoped for a last exchange of dialogue perhaps or just a tightening of the hand around the cane, a suggestion of his resolution or a reassurance of his strength. That was what I liked best about this piece, how you took a strong character in reclining health and showed his struggle to remain strong and to retain his power in a world moving past him and a world he could no longer fully control. I've gone off topic a bit now but yes, I'd just have liked to see a little something more at the end.

Overall, a great piece of writing with some solid characters and strong themes. Thanks very much for the read,

Heather xxx
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Fri Sep 02, 2011 4:25 am
PenguinAttack says...



Hullo there,

I'm sorry it's taken me so long to get to this, although it seems you have a plethora of very helpful, very well chosen reviewers who have given you their best. You're a lucky duck and don't need me. That said, I have very little to say about the piece on the whole. It's well written technically, with a strong voice that carries the story forward without any unnecessary lagging or disinterest.

To the meat of the issue, which is the content of the piece. I didn't find your narrator compelling or even interesting. He is certainly the racist army-man. Ruined by his experiences in a country he probably never wanted to go to. But, to the point, is that he's boring. This may be my personal prejudices against prose at the moment, but the man and the story follow a very predictable line and while I understand it's about the man's personal discovery and etc, it's very easy to tell where it's going and why. There is little you can do about this, but be resigned to it, though. Mostly because that's just what this story is and for some readers they will be pleased at the progression, and there will only be some like me, who have read too many of these before.

It's a solid story, otherwise, got the right elements in the right order. Just, clearly, not my cup of tea. If you're really unhappy with the review, hit me up for a replacement at another time.

~ Penguin.
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People find it far easier to forgive others for being wrong than being right.
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