1.13.2007

HH Com Rd 2 - #37 (579)

hook here


Tonight I stuffed tissue into my ears and went down below to watch the engine of the boat. It is a big engine, an inline 6-cylinder diesel painted red. It's bright red and so loud that you can feel its sound through your shoes. Down below in the engine room, conversation is impossible. There was a lone crew member wearing nothing but an old pair of corduroy shorts and a pair of large earmuffs, watching a panel of lights for instructions from the pilot in the wheelhouse. There is an intercom system on the boat but the engineer only gets lights.

The boy glanced over at me as I sat down in a chair near the engine but he quickly returned his attention to the panel of lights. The sound keeps our worlds separate even though we are only a few feet apart. Few things can give such isolation as a constant and deafening noise and because of this, the engine room is a good place to think.

I should also mention that the engine is almost constantly running. It is installed, started, and then rarely shut off. Even in port, while cargo is loaded, this engine is often running, and while underway, it runs at speed for days at a time. The noise and vibration are such constants that when the engine is shut off, such as to make a repair or adjustment, the mood on the boat turns to apprehensive excitement. Children stop sleeping and begin crying. People who are usually content to stick to an isolated routine, seek out others and trade gossip in groups of former strangers. A boat without its engine running is a stressed environment and, like during finals week at college, you are more apt to meet new people during this period than at any other time.

It is rare these days, for any one outside of industry to have any experience with a one-hundred-percent duty cycle machine. Perhaps the closest thing would be a refrigerator, but even this does not run constantly. If you left the door open, it would not be long until the compressor overheated and stopped running. But the engine on this boat, like many other things that are now hidden from our daily lives, will not stop to rest. It will run and run and run and run until it is dead, and then it will be replaced. And when chains are attached to it and it is hoisted out of the engine room, it is doubtful that it will be placed in some museum to be preserved. The captain may walk by and spend a fond thought on the engine. The engineer will certainly lower his eyes a little as the engine is carted away, for engines have personalities that can at least compete with dogs in complexity. The engineer will wonder what the new engine will be like. It will take a few months of operation before he is completely comfortable with it and knows the meaning of its hiccups. The old engine will not be forgotten nor will it be remembered. The crew of the boat is too intimately related to this engine to go about preserving its memory with formaldehyde and plaques. (this paragraph is very good)

This tendency we have to preserve is interesting and I wonder if it's not Marta's reverence for ruins that hinders us. The tourism industry transports us from grave to grave but they are the tombs of strangers. The remains awe but the connection is lost in the preservation. Our past is a museum piece and we are not allowed to touch it or breathe into it or use it to make something new. We do not seem to know our own past as intimately as the boy in the corduroy shorts knows that engine. We put plastic over the fine old furniture and never know its texture.
The engineer stood up from his perch by the instrument panel. He reached over to the backside of the engine and made an adjustment with a small wrench and sat back down. I wondered if Ford really thought history was bunk. I opened my journal and made a note to remember to ask him.


ok, here's your slow start with nothing happening. It's also got a very good paragraph tucked in there that reminds me a bit of John McPhee or Paul Theroux.

There was an interesting idea in this hook; I'd read the first five pages to get a sense of whether the writing stays compelling. If if did, I'd read a partial. At that point though, you're going to have to cough up some compelling action.

18 comments:

Mark said...

Why didn't he have ear plugs?

I Said said...

The writing's beautiful. I wouldn't need action, but at least purpose. I would hope that the next paragraphs would explain the why and where a bit, and hint at either conflict that brought us here or conflict ahead.

Otherwise, action in form of a connection of characters, a meeting, a dialogue.

Shannon said...

I love the last line, but the rest of it seems like it should be at a different point in the book. I was getting a little impatient reading through descriptions of the engine room. I know if I just picked this up and started on the first page, I wouldn't be intrigued enough to buy it even though I really liked the idea.

J. F. Constantine said...

For me this is not a slow start. My curiosity has me going. If I found this in a bookstore, with that hook on the dust cover, I'd buy it. I'm also fascinated by the history. Nice writing - very nice.

Wiley said...

@mark: Well, the narrator doesn't have earplugs because he didn't bring any with him from the States. It's not a good idea to sleep in sketchy motels and in hammocks and tents with earplugs.

And I admit, this is not the first chapter in the book. There _is_ action, but the book is definitely not a plot-driven page-turner. Rather, it's an inquiry into notions of authenticity as affected by tourism.

Thanks for all the comments. They are very much appreciated.

Anonymous said...

The hook made me think of "Heart of Darkness," and this prose does have a languid Victorian feel to it. Which, for me, isn't a problem. However, I get pulled out of the mood when I read things like this:
[i]A boat without its engine running is a stressed environment and, like during finals week at college, you are more apt to meet new people during this period than at any other time.[/i]

"Like during finals week" is perfectly good colloquial speech, but "AS during finals week" is conventionally correct and fits this narrator. A copyeditor can fix all that, but I'd be wondering whether the tone will stay consistent.

Also, while I love the elaborate metaphor of the engine, I wish it hadn't then been explained and related to the novel's characters at length (the paragraph on the folly of preserving the past). I'd rather see this part shown through the story itself. However, just the engine passage makes me think there's tons of potential here.

ORION said...

Miss Snark! You read Paul Theroux?
I will remember to tell him tomorrow!

Mark said...

Fair enough. I did that once myself but had to get a doctor to remove a chunk that broke off. Not recommended.

"Rather, it's an inquiry into notions of authenticity as affected by tourism."

An inquiry into authenticity. That, I like the sound of, like Bob Pirsig's great book. I like Bozeman too; lived over in Ennis. Good luck.

McKoala said...

The writing was nice, I thought, but I need more sense of what's going on - that something is imminent - to get me through something like this. That may be affected by the fact that these aren't the first pages.

LadyBronco said...

I actually enjoyed the writing in this sample, but I have no idea what is going on, and there is nothing really happening. I would have given up on this story already, unfortunately.

Wiley said...

@anonymous: yes, it's actually in my notes to change that. I was planning on cutting the whole college reference altogether so that it reads, "A boat without its engine running is a stressed environment and you are more apt to meet new people during this period than at any other time."

@mark: Ahhh, 'Motorcycle Maintenance... perhaps the best book to come out of the '70s spiritual/introspection fad. One of my favorites. As for Bozeman, a great place but not nearly enough snow this winter... alas.

tomdg said...

Funny - I was expecting MS to hate the engine paragraph. It's long, detailed description, not punchy in any way - but it is interesting and perceptive.

I'm reminded of her comment (hook #60?) where she said that the art of good writing is making a potato peeler sound fascinating.

This is totaly unlike any of the other excerpts so far - but no worse for it.

elaine said...

This reads like non-fiction. A memoir maybe. And while the writing is competent, it's also dense and, well, uncompelling. Not my cuppa, I'm afraid.

Anonymous said...

Excellent, excellent, excellent. This is something that an actual real-life adult would be interested in reading. The hook was good, but the page is much better.

Makes having trolled through all the hackneyed, over-done YA and fantasy crap almost worth the effort.

Mark said...

I think this so-called need to have impending danger looming in every writing passage is a false canard. Good writing can be rejected on this alone from the small snippets professionals will read. Describing what's going on when nothing much is going on is still craft and much of where life is lived. Actors call it the moment before.

Global warming is unkind to Bozeman and New England this year, but not to Denver. This is a predicted affirming pattern according to scientists and all part of my storyline.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating topic, but I found it verbose. The writing is highly literate, but it's thick enough to make me stop reading. True, literary writing sometimes has that effect. It needn't, though.

How many times need you say the engine is red? I think once is enough. Tell us once that you're in the engine room and we'll stay there with you.

You're ready to whittle.

Brady Westwater said...

I'd consider breaking the engine paragraph into three shorter paragraphs, each with a bit of an ending and a beginning to carry along the reader.

Wiley said...

I am always fascinated by the diversity of opinion regarding books. In fact, one of my favorite time-wasters is to go to Amazon.com and look up my all-time favorite books and read the reviews, beginning with the worst ones. It's a good exercise in realizing that for all things you love, there are squads of people out there who despise them.

That said, I try to write what I'd like to read; I assume everyone else is doing the same.