I thank all those voters who, near the end there, pushed it into something like second place. Good work guys. We'll get them next time.
Shameless ripping off the winner's methodology (hey, steal from the best, right) I'm going to just riff off some of the questions and criticism that came up.
Very nicely drawn characters, in an odd situation. I like the notion that Sylvia couldn't quite find emotion of her own -- she was like an emotional vampire, or something. Actually, this reminded me of the plots of some of the lesbian vampire books I read as a young dyke.
I'm thinking I wasted my youth reading the wrong stuff.
SEW, to the degree she has any literary predecessors that were in my mind as I wrote, owes to "The Yellow Wallpaper" (isolated woman story), "The Razor's Edge" (the frame narrator in the first and third part is based on Elliot), and an essay called "An Orgy of Power" by George Gessert. The later discusses the impact of torture on the torturer.
I like this one, a lot. Delicate whimsy. Salvation through inflicting porn on someone else. Whodathunk?
Delicate whimsy is nice. I tried to give it the feel of a curio sort of oddity. Whodathunk pretty much describes what I wanted to do with it. I'm glad somebody dug it.
The writing of this story is good, the pacing good as well. We get to know Sylvia, we get to know Paul, such as there is of him. The prose moves well, doesn’t trip over itself. Although I have to admit I had to look up what “anchorite” meant.
The story itself is interesting. I don’t know if it fulfills WFC7. Clearly there is loneliness and clearly there is something lost and then found. It seems to me to be about someone with a mental illness. It was a good story, but….I’m not sure I get the connections. It is possible they are simply too subtle for me. I tend to take things at face value and perhaps that is why I am missing something in the story. It left me wondering why another’s horror of pornography had anything to do with the clinical depression Sylvia had. I have to say this story had tremendous promise and it let me down. Well written, but the story craft is either poor or beyond me.
I'm not sure what poor story craft would entail, so I may well be guilty of it.
Sylvia's medical issue was intentionally left open-ended. I was never specifically thinking of clinical depression. As I viewed the story, the real issue with Sylvia is that she has no vantage point beyond her given definitions to decide what she wants to be, so the second she's the "the victim" she cannot get out of it. Until, of course, she tortures somebody – the maid – which gives her the radical otherness to get the lay of the land. That's what another's horror has to do with Sylvia, its liberating because she's never been horrific before. It is a temporary not her-ness that acts as a tonic. But this didn't come through, I guess.
Dump the first comma. And the one in the second segment after "Other times." The paragraph "Even Paul ..." has a failed é. Lots of 'tell' rather than 'show,' but lots of over-deterministic details that seem to serve as 'characterization.' I do like "a cross between the odor of fried chicken and the scent of rotting grass clippings."
I can accept "The chief draw of the obscene was the window it gave her on the affectless chasm of nothing within her." This, though, like the rest of the narrative, points to emptiness and not loneliness. Sylvia is a boring cipher; the prose is more interesting than the tale. Then with the post-wine-and-porn segment the piece awakens and moves forward. I can only take "strong but sympathetic personality" as either irony or mischaracterization, preferably the former. Yet since this comes from a first person narrator this makes said narrator too unreliable for my taste, since such a narrator would undermine the whole piece. The therapy-though-feeding-on-others'-discomfort makes Sylvia a potentially interesting emotional vampire, and the "near un-dead" state, etc., mentioned earlier support this interpretation, but I say only "potentially." Sylvia's emotional distance followed by bizarre porn needs mirrors the superior Piano Teacher, perhaps seasoned with a dash of Radley Metzger's The Image (aka The Punishment of Anne).
I'm a comma junkie. Guilty as charged. I write as a talk and I use commas to indicate pauses, like one would do in poetry I guess. It's a really bad habit.
I'm not sure I get the bit about "empty not lonely." Sylvia is empty, but she's also often literally alone and lonely. But if the fact that she was a lonely shut in who couldn't reach other people and was frustrated by that fact wasn't clear, that's my fault.
I never intended for the narrator to be taken as unreliable. Snarky, sure; but not unreliable. The arc of the story, as I conceived it, was that Sylvia gets broken, finds strength in torturing somebody else, and comes back the stronger and better for it.
The unfavorable comparisons to "The Piano Teacher" are probably accurate. My only defense is that the writer of that novel won a Nobel Prize, whereas I can't even win two WFCs. I apologize to anybody who saw the title and thought, erroneously, that they were getting Nobel-Prize-grade prose. I can't help but feel I've mislead you somehow.
I can appreciate the quirky angle on the theme in this story, but it's just not my speed. Sorry.
Dude, don't apologize. Maybe next time.
I liked this. It had a playful sense of detachment and, like Cape Horn, some pleasingly misanthropic (or perhaps just honest) undercurrents. It seemed nicely fitting to the form -- not a novella squeezing optimistically into short story jeans after a particularly heavy Christmas -- and is the sort of thing a modern-day Dahl might have written on a train journey through Crewe.
I have no idea what you're talking about, but I'm totally digging it.
The title sounds a little too much like it's the name of a Sufjan Stevens song for my liking.
I prefer to think that Stevens's song titles sound too much like CRwM story titles. Though, honestly, I've never listened to him, so I'm going to have to take your word for it.
I like the way the well-mannered style of this echoes the polite Society conventions of the class involved. I can't pick which Bostonian it belongs to though.
There was actually a rule I set myself that only the porn shop counter-guy would be able to use contractions. It was intended to add an extra level of stuffy Brahmin-ness to the whole thing without any of the readers noticing anything was up. I'd like to think that contributed to the mannered style you noted. (I screwed up once – Sylvia uses a contraction in the porn shop.)
Song title: Jerry Lee Lewis's What'd I Say?
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