Wednesday, April 24, 2013

April Secret Agent #3

TITLE: Letters to Disappointment
GENRE: Literary Fiction

October 30th, 1939

Dear Jasper,

I write to you from the belly of this phony war-- the deep breath of fear and anticipation before the great plunge into madness. Perhaps it is only I who lack the stomach for it, but I do not feel we can win this fight. I do not tell these things to Daisy. An infuriating optimism inhabits her psyche that cannot be done away. If she is to be made unhappy in the future, I want no part in it. And so, my friend, I am afraid I must write of these false terrors, these phantom fears to you. You are removed and will not suffer at their relation.

I have spent this unseasonably sunny afternoon wandering about the yard, staring aimlessly at the cracks in the brickwork; sitting down and standing up again, unable to keep my mind on any one subject. I had in mind to make preparations today, but I awoke feeling as though I had swallowed my razor blades and put it off. Daisy has gone to her mother’s for lunch, unwilling to endure or cater to my gravities. Though her parents depart for a tour of the South in a few days, I do not go. I am not well and the thought of conversation is too tiresome.


  1. Can a war have a belly? That really distracted me. I think of physical structures as having a belly.

    In fact the one thing this part lacks is clear setting. Where are we? The first indication of setting is "the yard", which to me, indicates a prison when there are no other details offered.

    I think grounding us in a solid setting would make this even stronger.

    I also found myself asking what a phantom fear was? If you are afraid of something, the fear is real, no matter how illogical that fear may be.

  2. I'm afraid this was too vague to capture my interest. The voice is not particularly likeable (self-absorbed and whiny, actually), so that wouldn't keep me reading, and there's no context for his fear, other than the date. If I knew, for example, that the person writing the letter is a young man in England who expects to be called for military service any day, and if I knew whether Daisy was his girlfriend or his wife, and whether they have children, I might be more engaged.

  3. Weighing in:

    I think a war can have a belly (i.e., "belly of the beast"), but it's worth noting that image may throw off a number of the readers. What bothered me more was the belly being "the deep breath..." etc, as opposed to the center of the war (my interpretation of "belly").

    I can see the need for more description, but that's going to be hard if this is an epistolary novel, as the title and opening suggest.

    Mostly, what would keep me from reading more is the language/voice of the narrator. It sounds stilted to my ears, as though the writing is trying to match an imagined 1939ish way of speaking.

  4. I would read more, trusting the writer is taking me somewhere and has chosen his words purposefully. I also was confused by the Belly word since the writer of the letter seems to be safe at home. He is worried of course, but not at the center of a war it doesn't seem. I liked the voice better after I read the piece over a few times.

  5. I like your title! It’s very interesting. I wonder if this is either the prologue or if the entire book is made up back and forth letters. It’s hard to get a clear enough picture in only 250 words. I wonder who Jasper is and honestly, what (the letter writer) side he’s fighting on. And more importantly I wonder who the letter writer is. I think sometimes it’s hard to figure it all out in a letter. But maybe as the pages go on, I would have a clearer understanding of who this main character is.

  6. Thank you all for taking the trouble to comment. I am grateful the feedback. It is an epistolatory novel and I hope that many of the details become clearer as the word count climbs.

  7. The voice, pacing, and word choice work well for the time period. I personally wouldn't keep reading because I'm not a huge fan of historical fiction unless it has a huge hook to draw me in and lots of action. Letter's probably wouldn't do that for me, but that's just me.

    I know many people have mentioned the belly. For me, when I hear "belly of the beast" in a historical piece during a time of war, I immediately assume the person is a soldier on the battlefield. So I was very confused by Daisy being with him, and him walking around his yard at the house.

  8. I must say that, while I too have reservations about "the belly / breath of fear etc." nevertheless I do find that the voice and choice of language, and British stiff-upper-lip strike a genuine note for me. And 250 words are always going to leave questions unanswered. I would definitely read on. I know the answers will come and I like the developing relationships.

  9. Interesting voice. I'd probably read more.

  10. Well, stylistically this is right up my alley. I like erudite, self-absorbed narrators. The language is clean and the piece is well written.

    Having said that, I was also confused about the narrator being in the belly and apparently not being a soldier. Also, if it's letters, it's easy enough to say where they're coming from and I think that's necessary to ground this.

    Other than that, I'd read on. Good luck!

  11. This is written well and the voice sounds accurate to the times, but there’s no hook here, although you probably aren’t going to find one on the first page of literary fiction. Still, as a reader, I wanted more. Maybe give us a hint as to who this person is. English? German? French? Something else? I think even that little bit would give me some kind of attachment to him.

    Though her parents depart for a tour of the South in a few days, I do not go. -- My thought here was, why would he? It’s their trip, not his. If Daisy is going with them, you might say – She and her parents depart . . . .

    I’d stick with you a bit longer to see how things played out.

  12. The voice is really strong, and although it's very formal and I'm not clear on what's going on, I'd stick with it for a bit longer to see how quickly I find myself grounded. I think the thing that threw me was the phony war. I was expecting something more war-ish in the setting, and was confused when it looked as if I was plopped instead into the grounds of an English manor (I don't know why I thought that, but that's the image I got).

    We do need a bit more grounding in what's going on, but if it comes shortly, I think it'll work. I think a jacket blurb would also help with that; this is the hardest audience for something like this! We have nothing but the words themselves.

  13. On a sentence level, this is fine. I wasn't particularly drawn in by the voice or language (the loftiness rings a bit hollow to me), but that's entirely subjective, as evidenced by the other commenters who've been wowed.