9.05.2005

The Peschel Challenge to Miss Snark!

Bill asks "If you had the first 300 words of NORTH in front of you, not knowing the author, would it have passed the Snark-O-Meter? "

You really know how to find my deepest fear don't you? I had visions of some clever Snarkling sending the first 300 words of an obscure but critically lauded novel and asking what I thought. So far, the Snarklings have resisted.

That said, once you know something is published and you think it's good it's hard to look at it with fresh eyes. Here are the first 304 words of NORTH by Frederick Busch. I think they would have passed with flying colors...do you?



In a marriage, you have to tell your secret. I came to believe that. But I also came to believe that my wife would die of ours. So I kept it to myself. The marriage ended. Fanny moved on in upstate New York. I went west and south. I didn't know what to look for so I looked for work. I was all kinds of hired security in the usual dark, cheap uniform that was always tight across the chest and shoulders or too short from the tails to the neck. One way or another, I worked with a patch of skin showing.

When we were together the dog tried to look after us. Whenever Fanny cried he thumped his tail against the floor. He'd done it since we got married. Sometimes it was the sound of his tail that lifted us out of that minute's misery.

He always knew what he was supposed to do, even after Fanny left with nothing but a couple of suitcases and some cardboard boxes and a cheap urn filled with ashes. He and I were together in New York and then New Mexico and across the Southwest. We went directly west for a while and then we went south and then we headed east. We stopped on the Carolina coast. I had been a military policeman, a deputy sheriff in three counties and two states, a campus cop in northern New York, a head of strip mall security in Arizona, department store security in Portland Oregon and a guard in a private psychiatric clinic not far from Eugene. I was climbing slowing down the ladder of police work. I figured soon I would be half-drunk bouncer in a porn palace in a medium-sized city I hadn't heard of yet in a state I hadn't meant to visit.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Is that you masquerading as Patricia Clarkson, Miss Snark?

http://et.tv.yahoo.com/movies/etsid36420012442/index.html

Hunky Hollywoodite GEORGE CLOONEY crosses the pond and heads to Italy for the star-studded Venice Film Festival, where he premiered the news-oriented 'Good Night, And Good Luck,' his highly anticipated sophomore effort as director. The multi-talented star reveals how he almost ended up in the journalism biz himself.

"I was 19 years old and my mom ... got me a job as a reporter for five minutes," he says. "And I was so bad. I had that horrible combination of being bad and overconfident."

The film premiered Thursday night, receiving a standing ovation. "I think they were just leaving," Clooney jokes about the warm reception. "And clapping because they wanted to get out."

kitty said...

I had visions of some clever Snarkling sending the first 300 words of an obscure but critically lauded novel and asking what I thought.

I'll admit that I did consider that for a second but figured you'd recognize whatever I sent, regardless how obscure. Besides, I didn't want to tick you off and blow your generous opportunity in the process, and all for what ... to appear cleaver? You've been straight with us. The least I can do is return the respect.

kitty said...

As to your question, yes, I think Busch's 304 words pass with flying colors.

Brady Westwater said...

Damn - now I have to read that book to find out what happened!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the excerpt. Now I've gotta read this. Because it's the sequel to "Girls." Which, as I said, was sad, dark and splendid.

Busch is one of those guys who hones his craft for 15-20 years, writing beautiful, critically acclaimed novels. While the 23-year-olds out of Iowa write the breakout, blockbuster novels on their first try. You've just gotta root for these guys. I hope he gets a breakthrough, like Russell Banks and Richard Russo.

Anonymous said...

Just not my cup of tea. I would pass on this, reading and otherwise. Even though it is well written, it doesn't grab me...

Christine said...

See, it works, because of the word "secret" in the very first line. You instantly want to know what the secret is. Then you find out it broke up his marriage, etc.. All narrative, but compelling, b/c you want to know that secret. It's human nature.

Jill said...

I wouldn't read further. Those few paragraphs did absolutely nothing for me. Nope, I couldn't muster up any sympathy at all, let alone any curiosity about what the "secret" might be. A complete "non-grab" for me.

Interesting, isn't it, how differently people react to things?

Bernita said...

Yes.
Knowing something is unpublished makes the eye more critical.Perhaps one unconsciously expects mistakes.
However,I think this would be turned down only if it genuinely did not fit the editor's standard market.
The elegiac, fadista tone is heart-grabbing.

Rene said...

I didn't care for it either. I thought it well written but boring. I feel the same way about Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian but I'm going to read the darn thing since I spent $14 on it.

Anonymous said...

I liked the feel of the writing, but I don't care about the secret. I think I read too much. Nothing excites me any more.

A sad state.

Anonymous said...

This lost me fast -- four sentences in. I couldn't visualize anything, and I don't care for the style.

Anonymous said...

I also like the tone of the writing, it's just the subjects of marriage and police work which bore me. I think I might try to find something else by Busch, though, so thank you!

Anonymous said...

Well, the comments here perhaps explain why Busch is well respected but hasn't yet had a big-selling, "breakout" book like the comparable authors I've mentioned, Banks and Russo. Oh, well. For every reader, there's a book ...

Bill Peschel said...

I *was* tempted to tip you a few well-regarded pages. I even pulled out my copy of "The Night Inspector", but decided you would like it. The opening scene in which a man is creating a mask is mysterious enough to keep you reading (for those who haven't read it, the mask is used to cover the horrendous facial wounds of a Civil War vetern).

The exercise did have value, however: I decided to ditch the opening of my book. While I love the set-up, it has nothing to do with the mystery. It annoys me to set it aside, because it *is* amusing ... maybe I can use it for a short story ...

{stumbles off, mumbling to himself}

Bill Peschel said...

And, yes, I do know how to spell "veteran." I just can't write it.

Peter L. Winkler said...

I found it lifeless and unengaging. "From the tail to the neck." What the hell does that mean? I don't care what the secret is, either. It might not be much of a revelation, anyway, but since I have no compulsion to read more I'll never know.

Bernita said...

Peter,
Uniform shirt...shirt tails...too short to tuck in... to uniform pants.
May operate as a physical metaphor.
Not that you wanted to know.

kathie said...

Boring.

Debra Hamel said...

I'm afraid I'd put the book down again after reading that opening. I can't stand that string of clipped sentences.

carper said...

Comparing Busch to Banks? Hmmm, I'm not sure Busch has the chops to write a 'Cloudsplitter.'