Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Savage Girl by Jean Zimmerman

Manhattan. May 19, 1876

I wait for the police in the study overlooking Gramercy Park, the body prone on the floor a few feet away.

A problem and a character in the opening line cannot fail to make one read on, which is what each line in a story should do: make readers want to read the next one, so onto the next line:

Outside, rain has cooled the green spring evening.

Unfortunately, this human weakness of succumbing to cliche rears its ugly head in this novel as it does in millions of others. The next paragraph talks about and describes the room this pronoun is in, which is not what the reader wants. The reader wants to know about the body, not the real estate agent's tour of the place. I understand that authors do this to build suspense, done by not revealing what the reader wants revealed right away, but I've always said that that is a rather hackneyed way of creating suspense, sort of suspense by procrastination. A little is fine and may be quite effective; a lot is annoying and feels like wasting readers' time by toying with them. In this case, it is thankfully short and in the next paragraph we return to the body and the interesting circumstances surrounding it, which are: Either 'she' killed 'him' or the narrator killed him but has no memory of it. The use of pronouns bugs me, I can infer more about the dead person than the living in this opening.

While still on the first page the narrator explains that whether it was 'she' who killed him or 'I' who killed him, the narrator is going to take the blame and therefore must wait in the room while contemplating what to do to the body until he/she/it is caught red-handed. The circumstances are unusual enough to pull readers in and it's nice that the hook is so soon. However....this is the prologue, an attachment to the beginning of a story. Chapter 1, where a story is officially supposed to begin rarely continues where a prologue left off, if it did, then the prologue would be chapter 1 and chapter 1 would be chapter 2.

Chapter 1:

In June of 1875, we made our way down Virginia City's "A" Street, proceeding south from the center of town towards the mountains.

As was expected the opening of chapter 1 does not continue  the action of the prologue but instead goes back in time to tell the story that leads to the prologue which one can assume will be a climactic moment in the novel later on, or thereabouts. On top of that, we have the walking cliche here, characters travelling to the beginning of the story and conflict. It goes on to explain who the people are that are walking and I lose interest. I'm not the only one; the library copy I have has the page folded after the prologue. Someone else stopped after reading the prologue, thinking that chapter 1 was for another day. Too bad, I really liked that prologue, despite the split infinitive.

First thing said:

"Where is it?"

Verdict: Pass (barely)

A deeply anticlimatic chapter 1 and a couple of cliches reduces the rating of this opening.

Theodore Moracht

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