The Unknown: The Orange Line.
  reader critique scott rettberg’s good friday 4/26/1995

Perhaps my favorite so far. The purpose of your style is revealed. To explain the last sentence, the purpose: stream of consciousness narration, the style: three to six word sentences or fragments, revealed: in a story about traumatized, hallucinating, flashback-ridden men. Stream of consciousness . . . the tangents the narration gestures towards are best kept short (references to Gilligan’s Island, M*A*S*H, Apocalypse Now, not Heart of Darkness, etc.) As I scribbled on page 2, your narration is more convincing dialogue than most people’s dialogue. Krass-Mueller claims he doesn’t think in complete sentences. You don’t write in complete sentences. The result has a great deal of formal beauty (as I call it, but in this class it means ugliness or technical proficiency) because you tend to group sentences with the same number of words and nearly the same meter. It gives your text a tempo most lack. On page 18, Friday carries on a dialogue with five six word sentences in a row. The effect this repetition has is only effective with short sentences. Short sentences also mean that they are less likely to be overwritten with superfluous modifiers and the sort of stilted formality that is unpopular. The story? Oh yeah, um, the trouble gone to do describe Friday’s weakened condition and the lack of trouble gone to to describe any believable recovery from an apparent plane crash would be alright (given the stretched plausibility everywhere) if Crusoe wasn’t kicking him in the (broken?) ribs. I would either remove those kicks or demonstrate their amazing pain and profound medical complications. I don’t know what it’s like to have a monkey shit on my head, maybe that’s why the scene seems convincing. I’m not sure why, in a story where I’ve already suspended most of my disbelief, certain details still seem unrealistic. Wouldn’t he have finished all his vodka by now? The flashbacks to Vietnam and Florence are great. Whose flashbacks are they?

What is this fiction stuff supposed to do again? I’m not sure on which peg of the story my interests should hang. I am not convinced by the life on a desert island, so not there. I don’t care if Friday kills Crusoe or not, so not there. The prose is highly fragmented, it is the story and the idea of the story that makes such disparate sentences as “An amputee is limbless. Monks limned manuscripts.” hang together. Maybe it is the prose where I hang now. In order to make these guys into characters some more work needs to go on all the work already there. The narrator has inconsistent memories of a dozen unpleasant scenarios involving a jaded attitude towards killing. He also has watched a lot of 60s, 70s, 80s television. Can these be shown to be aspects of one guy? The amnesia will only cover you for so long. There needs to be something he can piece together about himself. There needs to be some emotion attached to his inability to shoot Crusoe. Similarly, if Crusoe was a hotshot scientist and traitor and actually found a deserted island and a way to get Gaugin postcards, a record player, and vodka there, then there is something incredible about the irritating bearded freak in the story. There is someone there I do not want to die. There is someone there even more together than this highly trained expert military assassin who was somehow sent to a secret desert island and deserted there while the highly organized military that trained and sent him mysteriously forgot his whereabouts. Good story. I like it as is, but you could add more details that would make me fascinated by the people in addition to the pointillist style they’re portrayed in.


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