Starting in January, 2011 "First Page" will be a regular column feature in The Writer Magazine. Look for it!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Brighter than Bright

Everyone loves a love scene, especially one where, for a change, it's the man who's reluctant. As an opener, who but the stoniest puritan can resist this:
It’s New Year’s, the girl sitting next to me keeps patting the space between my knee and my crotch, but I don’t feel a thing. Not a damn thing.
The scene: a New Years Eve party; the mileau: the 70's or late 90's—so one assumes, since the music alternates between Nirvana and "Stairway to Heaven," and everyone's stoned or getting there. The sense memory of those days is in itself enough to give this reader a dope-induced headache. As for the narrator, he's way ahead of me—as narrator's should be. "Jesus," he says. "I wish I had some aspirin" . . .
Corks pop, and this huge pressure fills my chest and I push myself up, I can’t deal with this now, all these smile-plastered people partying and dancing, but the girl pulls me down by my belt and her tongue probes my teeth. I kiss back. We make-out for a while. It feels okay, so I slide my hands down her back to the edge of her panties. But then she kisses deeper, and harder, a lamprey sucking me down her gullet, and my heart races but for all the wrong reasons. I pull away.
I've heard probing tongues described in several ways, but "a lamprey sucking down [a] gullet" isn't one of them—not that I recall. Nor can I remember the last time I felt so sorry for a guy who's biggest problem (aside from a headache) is that some "cute, with a Christmas-in-the-Caribbean tan" woman wants to make out with him. Poor put-upon fella! Yet we buy it; or anyway I do, for the details are too many and too specific ("My fingers trail abstract circles over the skin below her throat") to shrug the scene off as adolescent male wish-fulfillment:
She tilts towards me, fingers glued to my leg, and talks and talks, but between the music and my pounding head, her words blow past my cheek. Her lips stop moving and she tilts her head, like she’s waiting for me to say something. My breath catches.
The best thing about this opening—apart from it's being well-written, with an artlessness that makes it look easy, is that it never takes a predictable or wanton turn. Okay, so the guy doesn't especially feel like making out, but, hey, "it feels okay," and so he goes along for the ride, until the lamprey attacks, and then he demurs. We wonder why—and also, for that matter, why he's not stoned like everyone else? What is his problem? "This is a fucking party," the scorned lover reminds him. And we're right there with her, for we, too, want an explanation. For which we must read on.

And the pared-down, rapid-fire, un-self-conscious style is just what's warranted here. Folks, this isn't War & Peace, or Ulysses; it's a callow dude making out at a New Year's Eve party. Style and substance are perfectly wed, for the substance here is the narrator, who, along with his author, is as guileless as can be.

But what about that Rilke quote topping the page? What are we to make of the combination of Rilke, marijuana, and casual sex? It's the one place where the author gives the nod to high art. What is your most suffering experience? To believe this narrator, it's being forced to make-out to strains of Nirvana with a pot headache when you'd rather be home reading the Duino Elegies.


  1. Spot on crit, Peter. Looks like an interesting read.

  2. Your crit makes me want to read this one. When's it being published?

  3. This crit makes me want to read this one. When's it being published?

  4. Thank you for your generous read -- I know you to be a tough customer, so appreciate that this opening largely works for you. And you want to read more! Yay! Double yay!

    This is a brand-spanking new beginning, one rewritten after the original (which opens with a dream in a shrink's office) was deemed cliche by more than one Important Person. So back to the drawing board. Your response comforts me I made the right decision (because I did love that original opening, now recycled later in the story).

    The 70s? I was aiming for late 90s, when stuff went retro, Nirvana going strong because Cobain checked himself out. Which I hoped was a clue pointing to the emotional state of my protag. I'll reconsider song choices, perhaps ditch Stairway to Heaven.

    Thank you for running this blog, and taking the time to respond to first pages. I've lurked here, read them all, and learned a lot. Peace, Linda

  5. I knew it wasn't the 70's as Nirvana wasn't around in the 70's so that remark was not well thought out.