I knew immediately what the problem was for me, Showing, Not Telling...thus, the studying. I did learn that what I was thinking is now being questioned by some... Still, I was the reader suffering through the book. Well, not totally suffering, but, seriously, spending more time on the "writing" rather than on the story, than I should have been, in my opinion...
DEESH: NINE TIMES OUT OF TEN it’s a woman who calls Bark to answer his classified ad in the Westchester Pennysaver, and sometimes when we pull up to her yard in his pickup, she’s outside waiting for us. Sometimes she even has something inside for us to eat, which, besides needing money, is why James and I never ask Bark if he wants our help. We just get in his truck and hope he lets us go. But the truth, Jan, is that on the morning he drives us north of Poughkeepsie, no woman, or anyone, is waiting outside. Maybe this has to do with the five hundred dollars this woman offered—she doesn’t feel the need to be friendly beyond that. Or maybe she’s with the junk that needs to be hauled. Anyway Bark pulls off the country road into her driveway, which drops through her uncut lawn toward her shabby yellow house, and we all get out, Bark headed to knock on her front door.
“Hey,” I hear from the left-hand side of the house, and I turn but see no one.
“Down here,” the voice calls, and there, crouched near an open crawl space hole, is a woman about as dark as me, maybe five years older.
“Over here, Bark,” I shout, and Bark makes his way down the porch, then over to her, James and I lagging behind to let her know he’s boss.
“I took care of the rest myself,” she says, and Bark kneels beside her, then pokes his head and a good half of him into the crawl space. He stays in there for a while, making sure, I figure, that we can do what needs doing. Then he’s back out, and he stands, slapping dirt off his knees.
“Just that oil drum?” he says.
“Yeah,” she says.
“I thought you said there was a bunch of stuff,” he says.
“No,” she says. “Just that.”
“What’s in it?” he asks.
“I have no idea,” she says, but she’s scratching her arm and keeps scratching it; if she’s not flat-out lying, she’s more than a little nervous.
“Because the thing is,” Bark says, “I can’t just take a drum like that to a dump without them asking what’s inside.”
“Then don’t take it to a dump,” she says. “Just, you know, get rid of it.”
Bark grabs his unshaven jaw, considering. Probably he’s stumped by why a sister is living more than an hour north of the city; plus it doesn’t make much sense that any woman living in a house this shabby could have five hundred dollars, let alone give it to us to haul off a drum with nothing bad in it. It crosses my mind this woman loves some guy who’s given her five hundred to get rid of the drum, some dude, maybe a white one, that she has it bad for and cheated with—and that inside the drum is this man’s wife. But all kinds of things are crossing my mind, including how I could use five hundred dollars divided by three.
“How ’bout a thousand?” the woman says. Here’s where all of us, including her, gaze off at her uncut lawn, the dandelions and weeds in it, some of them pretty enough to call flowers. We gaze our separate ways for a long time, letting whatever truth of what’s going on sink into us while we play as if it isn’t, and I feel my guts work their way higher toward my lungs, threatening to stay there if Bark agrees. But there’s a lot I could do with my share of a thousand, especially since I’m used to walking away from these jobs with fifty at most. I could eat more than apples and white bread and ham. I could start saving for a truck of my own—to haul things for pay myself.
Then, to the woman, Bark says, “In cash?”
“As soon as that drum’s in your truck,” she says.
Bark glances at James, who nods. “Deesh?” Bark asks me, and I know he’s working me over with his eyes, using them to try to convince me in their I-don’t-care-either-way manner, but what I’m watching is the woman’s feet, which are the tiniest bit pigeon-toed. They are also perfectly still, which could mean she’s no longer nervous, but my eyes, I know, are avoiding her fingers and arms. Still, the sight of those pigeon-toed feet has me giving her the benefit of the doubt, maybe because I once had it bad—really bad—for someone who stood like that.
“Why not?” I answer. I haven’t, I tell myself, actually said yes, but when I look up, James is following Bark into the crawl space, the woman checking me out.
“Sure appreciate it,” she says, in the flat way of someone who’s been with enough men to deal with us no problem. But now she’s scratching her collarbone—over and over she’s scratching it, without one bug bite on her. There’s death in that drum, I think, but with her pigeon-toed feet aimed at me, I fall even more in love...
Watch Me Go
By Mark Wisniewski
A jury would also need to know that thoroughbred racing often comes down to the keeping and telling of secrets. Matter of fact, for my entire life—until just a few months ago—all my mother had ever told me about my father’s death was that it happened three weeks before I was born, and that he had drowned well upstate from here, in a tangle of sun-bleached weeds near a shoreline owned by Tom Corcoran and his wife, Colleen. And that because of all this we were poor to the point that we should be grateful for her job working the counter at the Rexall on Main in Pine Bluff.
See, it wasn’t until the night before my mother and I left Arkansas to head for that lake—because the Rexall was forced to close thanks to a Walmart Supercenter two miles up Main—that she let me in on details beyond those. Like how when the search party of sheriffs and wardens and divers gaffed my father’s corpse, one of his legs was wrapped twice with thick black fish line leading to a huge prehistoric-looking fish. Like how this fish was a muskellunge—or, as people upstate would put it, a “muskie.” How this particular muskie was a monster, easily six feet long. How this muskie then lay in a sheriff’s outboard like guilt in the guts of a killer, and then, after the sheriff took photos, was dropped into the lake for dead by my mother, who, as soon as she headed off toward the Corcorans’ house, heard a splash and turned—only to see the muskie’s tail propel it back into those sun-bleached weeds. “It was like that fish was death itself saying ‘See y’all later’” was how my mother put it, her point, I figured, being that I should remember that I, too, will die, that therefore I should follow her footsteps when it comes to things like religion and sticking to the straight and narrow.
But that’s getting more into me and my mother rather than Tom Corcoran’s death. What I’m trying to say is that people out there need to know that tragic death and gruesome injuries and need of all sorts (not just financial) and gambling and welshing and debt and vengeful violence have long, long been a way of life around the Finger Lakes racetrack. People out there should also know that my father’s death left my mother so depressed and anxious she will never board an airplane. And that, as she and I plunked our butts down in a nasty coach-line bus for the thirty-four hours of drudgery between Arkansas and upstate New York, I was under the false impression that I’d stay with her in the Corcorans’ house for a few weeks to better understand my father’s life and death and legacy, but that, after I’d proven my fearlessness about all that, I’d move someplace where my own life could flourish, maybe someplace west or overseas. I actually believed that then. I believed New York State would be only a place to visit.
Somewhere in Kentucky, though, my mother began talking bluntly. And telling me things as though I were a normal adult rather than the daughter of a sex-deprived widow enamored of preachers. Things like how my father had gotten tangled up in those sun-bleached weeds in the middle of the day—not long at all after he’d sipped wine to relax himself to sleep. Things like how for a month or so just before he drowned, he tried to sleep as much as he could, to fight the impatience he felt while fishing, a pastime he’d adopted because owners weren’t letting him ride mounts on account of his recent failures to win. Things like how these failures to win were thanks to a spill he’d taken on the homestretch just before the finish line, a spill that caused a yelp from him to reach the grandstand when his left hand was trampled, so that now the bones inside were just tiny pieces floating in an ugly swollen-up mush; like how his last day was a Tuesday covered by clouds shaped like toad frogs, and how Tom Corcoran was the last person to see my father alive...
After the initial meeting of the two characters which reads well, with dialogue and routine sentence structure, almost the entire book is written in the style "opposite" of "show not tell." Many of you will have seen me refer to this rule in the past. After as many years as I've been reading...and then reviewing...it actually hurts me to read a book written in this style. I am aware that "telling" does not mean a lot of adjectives, which can also be just as stultifying, so that was not the issue for me...
First, let me explain that the book is written in two parts, moving from one character to another, each telling a separate story. There is a beginning that connects the story and the ending completes the connection, I must say in a powerful way.
My first issue arose from the run-on sentences, the unending paragraphs, and, of course, one person telling the entire story, speaking on behalf of both of the characters One was a male, Deesh, and the other was a young adult, Jan...
But, given the method of writing, with essentially only two characters speaking...and one person writing...I soon realized that the style of writing used for both characters was also the same. To me, that meant that I was seeing the writer inserted into the book, rather than each, unique character. Sure, the stories were different. The characters were different. But I read chapter after chapter, moving from one story to another, with absolutely no break in the writing... On and on it went, I found it hard to keep reading, my mind would wander, I had to stop and think which character I was reading... and, sadly, being bored with much...
As I got further into the book, I realized I was getting more interested. I also realized the writer had started using more dialogue and introducing additional characters... I was able to tell the difference between Deesh and his lawyer. I was able to see Jan and Tun beginning to share their feelings for each other. The difference was the amount of dialogue! People were saying things to each other!
I can only say that the style of writing had moved more into traditional writing and I was able to record the various voices of the characters. I was now being introduced to each character, that had formerly been only told about by either Deesh or Jan...
When I finished the book and read the acknowledgments and author's credentials, I admit to being somewhat chagrined... First, because many parts of the book had been printed in various places prior to the book. As I thought about it, however, a short story probably wouldn't have affected me as much as the entire book in this style. But when I read his writing experience, I was much more hesitant to say what I wanted to say in this review...
I decided, though, that I was the reader. I was not reviewing the writer's writing skills, I was reviewing the BOOK that I had just finished reading. Let me complete that thought, the story is indeed brilliant--but only as a connected interwoven complete book. The diversity of each individual person's story is so different, that in normal circumstances, probably the characters would have never met. Each story would be good, but not necessarily great. The brilliance comes through the merge of the lives of Deesh and Jan for a very, very short time... In fact, we don't learn how their lives continue on after that meeting. By that time, I was invested in both Deesh and Jan's life. I was also disappointed I did not learn what happened, especially to Deesh, who was being accused of three murders, none of which he'd done...
You will read many glowing reviews about this book. It is not my intent to question their validity. I am merely providing my thoughts based upon my reading of the book. Whether or not you disagree is irrelevant. I understand that writers have the opportunity to write what they wish... I, too, have the right to express my thoughts.. so please do read other reviews if you are considering the book. While the book got better as pages were turned, I would not be able to fully recommend the book as written, unless you really enjoy storytelling in its purest, basic expression where the reader doesn't know if he is actually saying what he's saying to another person, thinking it, or sharing that he was talking to somebody else, but using quotes to indicate what that individual was to have said... I find I am a traditionalist and expect what is a normal format in fiction novels, throughout the book or otherwise in a consistent manner.
The movement from dialogue which is actually occurring at the time of the story is quite different, in my opinion, than if a storyteller is telling another individual about what happened in the past. The time and setting, for me, was troublesome since there was a lack of consistency in the use of dialogue that characters actually were participating in versus what somebody is telling about what another person has said, which may or may not be the actual words...
How do I get into these situations where I'm more involved with the writing? Well, because the writer has placed me into that situation. If I am unable to sink into the words of the characters, the setting, the time, then, there is some reason for that. I realize I am a "literal" reader and expect the writer to have set up the scenes in such a way that readers can sink into them in a very few pages and able to carry them through to the end. This novel does not provide that; it takes work to read it...work dealing with the writing, not the storyline. The two stories, in themselves are quite simple and straight-forward with little complexity.
Even as I write this I am spending more time on what I saw in the writing as opposed to the story...'Nuf said...
Mark Wisniewski's forthcoming novel WATCH ME GO (Penguin Putnam, January 22, 2015) has received praise from Salman Rushdie, Ben Fountain, Dan Woodrell, Heidi Pitlor, PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, and THE HUFFINGTON POST. Mark's books also include the novels SHOW UP, LOOK GOOD and CONFESSIONS OF A POLISH USED CAR SALESMAN, as well as the collection of short stories ALL WEEKEND WITH THE LIGHTS ON and the book of narrative poems ONE OF US ONE NIGHT.
Mark's fiction has appeared in magazines such as THE SOUTHERN REVIEW, ANTIOCH REVIEW, NEW ENGLAND REVIEW, VIRGINIA QUARTERLY REVIEW, THE YALE REVIEW, BOULEVARD, THE SUN, and THE GEORGIA REVIEW, and has been anthologized in PUSHCART PRIZE and BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES.
His narrative poems have appeared in such venues as The IOWA REVIEW, PRAIRIE SCHOONER, POETRY INTERNATIONAL, ECOTONE, THE HOLLINS CRITIC, and POETRY.
He's been awarded two University of California Regents' Fellowships in Fiction, an Isherwood Fellowship in Fiction, and first place in competitions for the Kay Cattarula Award for Best Short Story, the Gival Press Short Story Award, and the Tobias Wolff Award.
Learn more about him at http://markwisniewski.net/index.html
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