Friday, 28 February 2014

Cell by Robin Cook

The insulin molecules invaded like a miniature marauding army.

This is the opening line of a prologue; one short descriptive paragraph that tells us in fairly technical terms about some substance, which - we must assume - kills brain cells. It's all left cryptically unclear, though it's most likely not heroin or meth. It ends with...that's ellipsis. To quote M.R. James: Let's have some more...

When will writers realize that punctuation does not create tension or suspense? I thought that was determined a long time ago with M.R. James's article. Or was it...

Chapter 1:

Westwood, Los Angeles, California
Monday, April 7, 2014, 2:35 A.M.

Kasey Lynch lurched awake.

So begins another novel with the cliché bed setting and accompanying almost obligatory nightmare. It also begins at that mythical bed setting time of night between 2:30 and 3:30 A.M., though most novels that employ this cliché start in bed at around 3:15 as it is closer to the proverbial dead of night, this one is a little unusual beginning at 2:35.

Also the verb lurch is weird here. I appreciate the efforts authors make to use strong verbs, but lurch is a movement and so moving oneself awake is awkward and lacks clarity. Think of synonyms for lurch, do any of these fit any better?

Kasey Lynch staggered awake.
Kasey Lynch wobbled awake.
Kasey Lynch swayed awake.
Kasey Lynch blundered awake.
Kasey Lynch swerved awake.
Kasey Lynch floundered awake.
Kasey Lynch rolled awake.
Kasey Lynch weaved awake.
Kasey Lynch jerked awake.

Only the last one resembles any sense in the context of the sentence. So lurch in this instance, while trying to be creative, is a bad word choice. Anywhere else in the novel and I could forgive this failed attempt at creative exploration, but to have this in the first line, the one line that stands out most in fiction, lacks attention, creativity, writing skill and/or intelligence. I do not want to read more.

You see, the point is this character would already have to be awake in order to lurch, unless she is sleepwalking (or sleep-lurching), which she isn't - or, and this makes me laugh, the character has the tendency to lurch in her sleep. I understand that the intent is to show the character waking up suddenly and then lurching forward (probably jerking upright) in bed, but the word choice, if one stops and thinks about it, doesn't convey this. One solution is to stop reading, another is not to stop and think.

What follows after the first line is some context, where this person is and with whom and why - which means a little back story. Of course discussing a nightmare usually means back story.

First thing said:

"Been awake long?"

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

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