Wednesday, April 13, 2011

April Secret Agent #21

TITLE: By the Book
GENRE: Women's Fiction

Susan Finkel attributed her sex education to Lady Chatterley's Lover, not that she'd read beyond page twenty-seven. Two copies purchased in 1964, two copies snatched by her mother and ripped to shreds. Allowance money saved for the forbidden. Assets more successfully squandered on McDonald's French
fries frizzled in lard and devoured away from Leah's watchful eye. And so it was, at age thirteen, Holly had no choice but to turn to the Talmud to learn the ins and outs of intercourse, and how to handle such marital calamities as halitosis and overwhelmingly large breasts. Not that either of these maladies could be ascribed to her.

She read voraciously, constantly studying the legitimacy of sexual pleasure, perusing this material again and again over the years, working her way from apprentice to master as her appreciation ripened. Always eager to display her knowledge, she talked nonstop to almost anyone who would listen, and when she entered her senior year at Boston University, she was ready for her first paid gig. At least that's how she felt one sleepless night after seeing a flyer announcing an upcoming symposium, Contemporary Applications of Biblical and Talmudic Wisdom. Twenty-five bucks for each of three abstracts accepted; how could she resist?

Now, two days away from her debut, she worried about fainting on stage or, worse yet, speaking before an empty auditorium. What if people preferred smoking dope at an anti-war rally over an event promising sponge cake and rugelach? Even her lover had turned her down.


  1. This doesn't hook me. It's a lot of backstory and doesn't give me enough of who the character is. That's not to say I don't know a few things about her, but knowing ABOUT her and KNOWING her aren't the same.

    Maybe if you started in a different place? Like right before she goes onstage or something?

  2. I love the first line - but then I was confused. :( I'm Jewish, so I understand about the Talmud etc, but I didn't see it fitting together -- I'm not sure if she's about to lecture on sex or on the Talmud. Or both! I think there are interesting elements here...and with some fine-tuning you can show us who the mc is and what she's about to do -- or just show her doing it. Thanks for sharing!

  3. There is something in the voice that is great here. I do think that there is too much backstory here, maybe. Starting with the symposium and giving us the backstory later would work. I do like the Lady Chatterly. I'm not familiar with the Talmud (beyond knowing what it is) and so I have to play catch up (which is fine, but don't forget that your audience may have to do that!) I'd definitely keep reading.

  4. I agree. Too much back story. I want to know what is happening 'now' in her life. Perhaps start whenever 'now' is.

    I also thought there was a lot that wasn't quite clear. Is she Susan Finkel or Holly? And if she's Susan, who is Holly? I'm guessing Leah is Mom? And like WFW above, I don't know if she's speaking about sex or the Talmud, or sex in the Talmud.

  5. I'm sorry, this doesn't hook me at the moment. I assume Leah is Susan's mother but who is Holly? Is it a name change typo? I like the opening line but it isn't true. It appears she got most of her sex education from the Talmud. Also, I'm not sure why she 'had no choice but to turn to the Talmud'.

    What I got from the second paragraph was backstory about her spending years talking about sex to people before accepting a fee to go on stage and talk about sex in the Talmud.

    I googled Rugelach so I wouldn't show my ignorance :)

    Sorry, if I sound harsh, and I do actually think this has potential, I just think that you need to start in a different place and rewrite some of the first paragraph, however amusing the individual sentences are (and they are :)).

    Just my two cents of course, feel free to ignore at will.

  6. I loved the first lines. I love the voice. But you lost me with the Talmud, not because I don't know what it is but because I don't understand she has no other choice than the Talmud for sex education. Also, I stumbled over being paid to speak at an academic symposium.

    Not hooked, but wish I were.

  7. I love the first two lines. The voice is great, and I thought the writing was excellent (if, perhaps, a bit overwhelming in its literary-ness).

    The second lines about MacDonalds and fries, seem to be there more to reestablish the literary tone of this than to carry the narrative forward. This early on, you need to concentrate on making each word matter and move forward. There will be time for backstory and MacDonald's later.

    Also, I'm super confused about who Holly is. Susan is the girl who bought the books in '64, and Leah(Susan's mother, I assume) tore them up. So, what does Holly have to do with them and them to her?

  8. Thanks for the comments everyone. So who is Holly? Holly changed her name to Susan a while ago; unfortunately I did a rotten job of search and replace. Oops! As for the Talmud, one of the six segments is devoted to marital relations including sex, birth control, and abortion. Those old rabbis thought of everything.

  9. Not hooked, but I don't normally read this genre.

    As someone else pointed out, there seems to be a disconnect between the beginning and the rest. If she really got her education from the Talmud, why even mention Lady Chatterley's Lover? It's contradictory.

  10. I loved that she learned about sex from Lady Chatterley's lover but then you spent the rest of the time showing she didn't. I know next to nothing about the Talmud, and there isn't enough here to make me interested. Sorry, started hooked, but lost it.