Saturday, 6 September 2014

Wayfaring Stranger by James Lee Burke

It was the year none of the seasons followed their own dictates.

It goes on about weather. If the seasons had been dramatically different like snow in July or a heatwave in February then this might have been interesting to read. But as it's about nothing other than bad weather, dressed in simile, it is as boring as staring at paint drying. Not the way to begin a story. Ever. Unless, of course, you are James Lee Burke or any other author who enjoys the byline hook.

Then with paragraph 2 the story moves into back story about a father who disappeared looking for work and a mother that goes through a mental deterioration, before taking a further step back by one generation to go into some granddaddy back story. But it is the good kind, unusual and filled with conflict.

Despite weather cliche and back story dump, this opening does succeed in revealing character and mood, which is important to writers and English teachers, as well as to the average reader. This the reader may enjoy some sympathy for the character and care. So we have character development and setting but no story problem yet, which is sort of what a book is really about - conflict and character. We know who it is about, but not what it is about.

First thing said:

"Some people must have wandered off the highway onto our road."

This comes on the second page, so thankfully the back story and figurative setting descriptions (author gymnastics) don't last long as a scene starts to unfold: A car pulls up onto the narrator's property which leads to pulling out guns.

I like the writing despite the opening paragraph which isn't necessary where it is. I mean, if it was thrown in somewhere else it's effect would be the same plus it'd have the advantage of being less visible. But as the opening? There are better ways to begin. There is certainly no hook in the first paragraph. However, the story gets going quickly after the reader stumbles through the writer's writer's opening.

Verdict: Pass

Theodore Moracht

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