Wednesday, July 15, 2009

12 Secret Agent

TITLE: Unbroken Glass
GENRE: Adult literary fiction

I never expected to get divorced, let alone sit Shiva for my ex-husband in a house with a Christmas tree. Yet there I was.

The imitation pine tree was fully dressed in tinsel and shiny red balls. Hallmark ornaments masqueraded as heirlooms and dangled from its branches. The dining table was draped in silver garland and scattered with menorahs and boxes wrapped in Hanukkah paper -- an attempt at cultural balance, I presumed. Richard had detested Christmas folderol. I’d chided him for it as long as I could remember.

“The kids tell me there’s a Christmas tree in your house,” I said to him a week before. “I thought you hated Christmas.”

“Yeah well, things change,” he said. “And anyway, it’s Nicole’s tree, not mine.”

It was hard to say which was more shocking -- Richard dying less than 48 hours earlier, or the glittered personalized stockings in his home dangling above a plain card table topped with carefully rolled slices of lox, cream cheese balls and a mountain of seeded bagels. The Shiva food sat untouched and started to curl and crust at the edges. Everyone hovered, waiting for some official signal that it was Time To Eat. Only then would they soothe their psyches with time-honored Jewish death fare.

Someone must have told Nicole the food was going to spoil. What did a shiksa, a non-Jewish girl, know about smoked fish? She stood up. “Everyone, please have something to eat.”

Aunt Sophie was first in line.


  1. You're first line captured my attention. But . . . I happen to know what Shiva is and why a Christmas tree normally wouldn't be in the house. Most people probably don't have a clue.

    You might want to start with the second paragraph, then the first, and then keep the rest as is.

    The second paragraph is very well written and supplies the needed contradiction. The paragraph also alerts the reader to the Judiasm connection, especially if they don't know what Shiva is.

    I also get the impression that the narrator doesn't like Nicole. Well, what ex-wife would like her ex-husband's new spouse/girlfriend. Still, there's a bit of snark in the last paragraph that is very telling.

    I'd read more. Good job!


  2. Nope. I don't have a clue. I'm still a little interested, though. And your writing is good.

  3. (That not-having-a-clue is in reference to whatever a shiva is.)

  4. I like this and would read on a bit.

    Couple things though -

    Tense issues with the 'week before'.

    Also thought that the order of paragraphs could be played around with so this flowed a bit clearer.

  5. I really liked this. I'm hooked and would read on. I'm not Jewish, but I knew what was going on and felt the tension beautifully. Great writing.

  6. OK, I do know what a shiva is (7 day Jewish period of mourning) - but agree that most people wouldn't. But why would an ex wife sit shiva for an ex husband? It should be spouse, siblings, parents, children. Is she still married to him - or no one knows they have split up?

    Why would a 'shiksa' - hate that word - new spouse host a shiva? Wouldn't they take the stockings down? Ditto the Xmas tree? If her children are sitting shiva wouldn't they do that in her home? They don't have to do it with the new wife - who wouldn't do it anyway if she wasn't Jewish.

    I liked the feeling of poignancy - that her husband had moved on and become someone very different and alien to her - but the details didn't ring true. Much more likely there would be a clash over what sort of funeral he would have, and a row over no shiva.

    Of course maybe all this is explained through clever plot twists, but I think there should at least be a rabbi raising his eyebrows at the strangeness of it all.

  7. Oh I love it. Characters are real and the story moves.. Great job.

  8. Hooked-- I had some of the same why questions that Keren did but, assuming you explain them shortly, I think they help pull a read through the beginning.

    Don't worry about people knowing what Shiva is--readers can google and I am pretty sure most editors/agents will know.

    Note: "I’d chided him for it as long as I could remember" doesn't seem accurate, as I suspect she has only done so since he got remarried to Nicole.

  9. I'm torn, though I'd probably read a little more to see where it's going. The first sentence is a great hook, but you lost me a bit with the 6th paragraph about Nicole and the shiksa (here you explain what it is, but didn't explain the other Jewish terms -- I don't think they need explaining, btw). Just a slight letdown with the bland "have something to eat" dialog. Wanted some conflict!

  10. Love the voice on this. I'm hooked and it's not even the kind of thing I'd usually go for.
    I do agree with someone before, though. A couple tense issues that need to be fixed. And the mention of Shiva right off confused me somewhat, but I still kept reading.

  11. I'm not hooked yet, but I liked the voice, and was intrigued by why she was there and what had happened. So, I'd read one to see if it kept my attention.

    The "48 hours earlier" threw me - any way to set the time off the telephone call, rather than the sitting Shiva? But that's a small point.

    I'm interested to know how long they have been divorced, and about the kids...and what will happen.

    I'm not sure the interest would hold if this became a back and forth of their life and what lead to the divorce, without more primary plot, but so far I'd read on.

    good luck.

  12. Love the set up.
    The paragraph that began with "The imitation pine tree" had too many passive "was" words in one area. The descriptions were (another passive word) on point though, and worked very well.
    I did see a leap from the first paragraph, in time and place, that could use a transition to help those of us who need it.

  13. I'm not interested - BUT the secret agent is!


  14. I'm going to agree with another commenter here and suggest you flip the first and second paragraphs, only because not everyone knows what Shiva is. Or, at the very least, somehow include a reference to Judaism in that first sentence so readers know a little bit more.

    This did capture my attention, though. I'm hoping there will be tension not only between the religions, but also between the ex-wife and new woman (to a small degree), and also more tension with this man's death. If you returned to the death within the next few paragraphs, I'd keep reading.

  15. It didn't grab me, but it did interest me enough that I'd read more to see where it went.

    I didn't know what Shiva was, although I did know it was Jewish, and it didn't bother me. I got it from context clues. I wouldn't change the order of the paragraphs over it.

    And I could very well see the new non jewish wife leaving up all the Xmas decorations. It tells me that though she married a Jewish man, she didn't bother getting to know anything about his religion.

    I can imagine a dozen ways this could go. I think to make it a real grabber opening though, you could maybe hint at what's coming up later.

  16. I love it! Love the culture clash. Great voice - and the I like that you don't explain Shiva, we can figure it out. I'm not totally sure you need to explain shiksa. I knew both from Seinfeld. ;)

  17. I recall this opening line from the first line contest and I loved it then - and I like what you've done with it.

    I would definitely keep the sitting shiva line

    This story has a lot going for it and I would definitely read on.

    There was only one comment I would make. When you mentioned talking with the ex a few days before he died, I wonder if subsequent line that he died x hours later, rather than 48 hours ago?