#69 Crapometer


If it isn’t quite a wonderful life, at least it’s a well appointed one. Until one morning Mar wakes to find her sense of duty has changed to cynicism.

Well bred, tractable and resigned, Marlene Reichmann-Stevens steers by auto-pilot in a world of people she tolerates, work that’s degenerated to paper pushing and wealth that traps her into soul-sucking social obligations. This morning, though, Mar is different and she doesn’t know why. It may be midlife crisis, critical mass or a nervous breakdown, but today she can no longer fool herself that running an importing firm inherited from her father, living in her childhood home married to the son of her father’s partner and continuing her parents’ civic involvements add up to anything but slow asphyxiation.

Navigating nannies, board meetings, five star restaurants and the trappings of life as a CEO, Mar hunts for something she cares about. Over lunch she tries to confide in her friend Lanya, who encourages her to embrace this new outlook and kick off constraints. But Mar is terrorized by the thought of all she stands to lose. Everything she has, everything she is, was defined by her father’s training and the stipulations of his will. She doesn’t know how to do without the structure he imposed and the social system to which she’s accustomed.

Mar’s tension builds as she goes through the motions of her day. At first she wonders where this change in her came from. By afternoon however, the need to find answers to the questions she’s suddenly willing to ask becomes far more crucial. The questions have been there all along but Mar hasn’t allowed herself to acknowledge them. Now memories she’s kept submerged in her effort to maintain normality rise to the surface and everything she’s built her life on looks tarnished.

do NOT tell me she remembers being abused or some such treacly thing. That's so five minutes ago.

Once Mar’s thoughts begin to fly out of Mar’s tight control, her behavior follows. Over the foie gras she becomes hysterical, laughing to the point of tears. At the Seattle Art Museum she kisses a man she’s only known an hour and snubs a politician’s wife. Convinced she’s going crazy, Mar draws on all the tricks and strategies gleaned from a life in business, forcing herself to concentrate on work. At quitting time the questions return as she faces the prospect that at home she’ll find her family life as empty as her professional.

Mar has tried to scrub the traces of her childhood pain from the house, but the unclouded vision of this day shows the classic structure is still stained with abuse, neglect, loss and fear. The life she’s been trying to lead here, with her husband and twin daughters, is beginning to follow the same dangerous patterns. At dinner the question Mar has been asking herself all day, “Who would I be if I left this life?” turns upside down and she asks instead, “Who will I become if I stay?” The answer to that question is clear – if she stays in her house, in her current life, she will be like that politician’s vacuous wife. Or worse, she’ll become her mother and ruin her children. Perhaps it’s already too late.

oh boy, abuse and neglect. yawn yawn yawn.

As night falls, Mar goes to bed devastated by what she’s just admitted to herself. Lying awake beside her oblivious husband she slowly resolves to act, convinced she has nothing to lose by taking a chance. She packs up her two small daughters and carries them out to a waiting taxi, anxious to get far away before she wakes to the enormity of what she’s doing and falls back into habit. Giddy with fear and anticipation, Mar directs the driver to the airport and watches the house and her half-dead past recede into darkness.

ok there’s the first chapter. Now what?

Don’t confuse a dawning realizatin that your life sux with action and conflict. It’s just the start. Now she’s got to actually do something, face the challenge, and change.


Anonymous said...

oh boy, abuse and neglect. yawn yawn yawn.

Okay, Miss Snark, that's IT. Yawn yawn yawn Oedipus it's SO five minutes ago. Odysseus furhterchrisssakes WILL you give me a break that is SO old. Hang it all, woman, have you never been to the opera? It's nothing but Central Booking set to music! God DAMN it, Miss Snark--it's the MUSIC. The FUCKING WRITING.

I swear to God, if Shakespeare summarized Hamlet for you you'd say, "This dysfunctional family stuff is old, but it might work as an animated feature about lions."

Miss Snark said...

ya ya ya, in fact I go to the opera all the time, and you're right it IS the music.

And you're right about this.
Which is why I always ask for five pages of writing. If the writing sizzles, I stop yawning.

However, I haven't seen sizzle about abuse and neglect since Dorothy Allison...and let's just say that was a loooooooooooooooong time ago.

I think I express my view better in other comments when I say: if you're going to use tried and true subjects, you better sizzle, and it wouldn't hurt if your synopsis did too.

Now sit down and let the fat lady sing.

quakingwriter said...

To Miss Snark and Anonymous,


While it's nice to have a champion, I'm shaken to have references to Sophocles, Homer and Shakespeare hovering in the vicinity of my work.

Miss Snark, thank you for your amazing effort on behalf of all of us who need to learn how to write a synopsis. I won't say yawns don't sting - none of us in aiming to beget indifference - but I'll take your comments to heart, make the synopsis sizzle, the novel measure up, and the fat lady sing. (Though I don't know where exactly the fat lady will fit in my story.)

And WTF - FWIW - There is no abuse in my story - I used the wrong word. So much to learn.

Thanks again Miss Snark. May you always have a gin pail within reach when reading the slush pile. And thanks Anonymous, for saying things I'm tempted to read as positive about my synopsis.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I just can't resist this:

Perhaps the singing fat lady is Mar's old nanny, now locked in the attic.

She packs up her two small daughters and carries them out to a waiting taxi, anxious to get far away from the crazy nanny before she wakes to the enormity of what she’s doing and falls back into the habit of sliding sheet music under the door. Giddy with fear and anticipation, Mar directs the driver to the airport and watches the house implode and her half-dead past recede into darkness.


Jo Bourne said...

I dunnoh.
If I had a fortune, a high-powered job as a CEO, two kids, a beautiful house ....

and I wasn't abused,
but just stifled.

I wouldn't pack the kids in the car and run.

I'd kick my husband out of the house, start an affair with the nineteen-year-old poolboy, and fill every top position in the import company with minorities and women.

Much more fun than fleeing into the sunset with two car-sick kids.

quakingwriter said...

Jo - interesting comments. In fact, Mar has already done much of what you suggest.

As for staying home being more fun than hitting the road - to each her own. But in Mar's case there's more to the choice than simple enjoyment. One of the important details I blindly left out.

All in all, your comment was very helpful in showing me what to include. Thanks for taking the time to give your opinion.

What I Learned From My Synopsis Vacation: Use all the words allowed to make sure the fire is on under the frying pan. (Still contemplating what to make of the fat lady.)