In our family, a phone call always means bad news.
We comfortably cling to current technology and the distance it allows us while keeping us close. Text messages and Facebook status updates are easier to swallow, to keep shallow, to process. A phone call is too personal, too open. With the lines of communication wrenched that wide, old demons are bound to climb from the chasm, to draw blood from healing scars and split fresh tears. Phone calls are screened. And face-to-face meetings? Forget about it.
July 18th, 2011, was the day my mother tried to take her own life. I was nineteen. I got the phone call at four-forty-eight in the morning, from her ex-girlfriend and my best friend. "Your mom tried to kill herself. She's in the hospital, she OD'd on a bunch of pills. I'll meet you there." Click. You learn certain skills while living in chaos. You find yourself in a tight-lipped, red-eyed crisis control mode, where things like sleep and food and meltdowns don't matter.
But we sure know how to network. Within minutes, both of my sisters know as well, their phones lighting up and chirping in the darkness of the bedrooms across town like alarm bells. Within an hour, we are en route, hastily working out transportation when no one owns a car and trying to navigate the city streets on an hour of sleep with no caffeine. It seems impossible. We arrive, we see one another's faces, and we think of how different things look when they aren't sheltered by the shadow of social networking.
We share paper cups of coffee and stale cafeteria sandwiches. We try to keep calm. We wait for news, we take turns sitting beside my unconscious mom, watching her struggle and fight against the medication that keeps her sedated. We don't mention the mainline stapled to her neck or the multiple IVs plugged into her veins or the stench of the catheter.
At the twenty-four hour mark, we go our separate ways to find sleep. It's elusive, and we call each other more often over the next week, between visits to the hospital and quick naps at home, than we will over the next year.
July 18th, 2012 was the anniversary of the day my mother tried to take her own life. I was twenty. I got the phone call at five-thirty-six in the evening, from her ex-girlfriend and my best friend. "The dog is dead. I thought your mom would want to know." Click.
Hi, I'm Ross and I'm here to critique your piece as part of #FeedbackFrenzy's Frenzy #2. As always, critique represents my opinion, which you're free to heed or ignore as you want. A note about stars: I'm pretty stingy with them, but not out of a desire to be cruel--to me, a solid, good, story without any significant flaws is a 3. First off, thanks for including some direction for critiquers. I'll address those points in my critique.
After some opening statements, I'll discuss the piece in a linear fashion, start-to-finish. Then I'll hit your four questions and wrap it up.
Broadly, this is an effective piece of flashfiction. Very little is extraneous and there's very little that's lacking in detail. You avoided cliche language and mostly stayed away from the abstractions commonly found in such personal, emotional pieces. That's extremely commendable. Well done.
Because of the obvious skill of the piece, my critique will largely consist of little, nitty-gritty issues. That's not because I want to tear it utterly apart, it's because I don't have to spend the critique dealing with classic systemic issues like "show, don't tell" or "avoid abstract language" or "grammar is a thing you might want to study".
Start to Finish
First off, I like the title. It's a little sparse as an introduction to the piece (which is itself pretty sparse), but it introduces an intense double meaning after you've read the entire piece. All of my favorite titles are of that type--they help prepare you for the story to come and they mean something different at the end.
The opening line is solid. It might be better with a more active verb than "means", like "carries", but it gets the job done. Combined with the title, it prepares the reader for the terse language of the piece.
The second paragraph is probably the weakest in the whole piece, and since it is the first chunk of detail the reader gets, that's a weakness that needs addressing. The opening sentence is wordy--"comfortably" can be omitted without a serious loss of meaning, "current" is implied (since if you were using ancient or future technology that would have to be spelled out), and "the distance it allows us while keeping us close" is clunky (a possible rewrite could combine those two thoughts into 'the illusion of closeness' or a single phrase like that). In the second sentence, the list ordering is a bit odd, since the 1st and 3rd items are focused on the person receiving the text and the 2nd on the person writing the text. Rather than a list, I might pare it down to just one of each (to me, "process" is the best candidate for cutting). In the next line, "too personal" is probably extraneous--"too open" is better and the next line develops "open" better than "personal". Speaking of which, "lines of communication wrenched that wide" is an excellent and visceral metaphor--so good that the cliche banality of the "old demons" is especially underwhelming. A fresher image than demons would really do well here--other unpleasant things do well out of the ground, after all.
The third paragraph comes galloping out of the gate with a combination "oh crap" and "aha" moment. Nice work. The clipped, analytic tone of these sentences reminds me of the compartmentalization any severe grief engenders--I had immediate flashbacks to painful events from my own past. Really, truly, well done. One ambiguity in this piece that I wrestled with is introduced here--when the girlfriend became an ex, and how the narrator remained friends despite that. While those details aren't strictly necessary for understanding the emotion of the piece, they do leave I think just a smidgeon too little information about the characters and their relationship to each other. "in chaos" would probably be better with a less abstract word ("grief" springs to mind), but it earns its place much more thoroughly than your average use on a dA lit piece. "meltdowns" is a poor companion to the true life necessities of "sleep" and "food"--something needs to be there for some classic Rule of Three symmetry, but "breathing" might be better. If you need to include "meltdowns" that might be better off in a different line ("Meltdowns are things that other people have time to have.").
The fourth paragraph picks up abruptly from where the second lets off. In a longer piece, the constant shifts and terse language would get exhausting (or at least disengaging) eventually, but this isn't long enough for that to be a problem. It's a strength of this work. I'm not convinced that the tense shift to present introduced here is a strong enough choice to justify the weirdness of the read. The second and third sentences here are both a little heavy on the prepositional phrases--I'd cut out extraneous information from the first and make the second two sentences (or one with a semicolon). The phrase "social networking" at the end of this paragraph was a bit jarring (and this time, not in a good way). The phrase is almost cheerful, an smiley-face on the end of a dark paragraph. "the internet" is a solid replacement, as would a phrase with "filter" as a verb or a noun somewhere.
The fifth paragraph opens with another dry knife-twister. In the third sentence, "we take" would probably flow better as "taking". "We don't mention" is a winner of a phrase.
The sixth paragraph's value judgment from the future (about call frequency) is excellent.
The seventh paragraph contains some of that ambiguity I mentioned earlier. 'Whose dog' is a big question (the obvious answer is the ex, but wouldn't her phone call say something like "Buster is dead" or "My god is dead"?). I don't mind having to stop and ponder in the middle of a story. That's usually a good sign. While I can't put my finder on exactly the detail I think is missing, there's a detail-shaped hole in the piece that I sense can neatly erase those ambiguities and keep the emotional intensity high.
The closing line is, like the start, solid. I am curious as to why they are so different, though. It would be more conventional as a framing device for them to be identical or nearly so. While doing something because it's conventional is a poor reason, I don't see a big difference in the way to the two wordings work within the piece, so I don't see why there's a difference in the first place.
1 - I am left with a feeling of bleakness, an emotional deadening that comes with too much pain too quickly. That the events are somewhat removed in time gives the narrator a better sense of perspective, and less hopelessness, but the impression is still numb (just not with shock anymore).
2 - I think the tone works perfectly. In a longer piece, as I mentioned, it would probably be too much. Here that's less of an issue.
3 - Least favorite is easily the "demons" cliche. Most favorite is the line that starts "It's elusive...".
4 - My suggestions on improvements are contained in the commends above. Tightening the language a bit, hinting a bit further at background relationships to remove some ambiguity, and keeping the language concrete throughout will all improve the piece.
This is a solid piece of prose. I think you do an excellent job manipulating the reader's emotional state, and you do that by keeping things concrete, relateable, and terse. Thanks for sharing, and good luck with any improvements you make.
This reminds me of something that should be on the "Thought Catalog". When I first clicked it, I knew it was going to be something thought provoking and amazing. It just had the tone of something that was going to be deep.
I'm curious as to what happened to your mom. I hope she is alright, unless you don't care if she is alright, then I guess it's irrelevant. And you're right, a phone that late is never good. A phone call is not really a good one coming from anyone.
I appreciate your insight and your words. Though, the piece was simple, your way was nice. I like the reflection of your life in your piece.
Yeah, I could picture it on there. It seems like something they would post up. Did you ever submit anything there? I think it would be interesting to see if you could be published on there. I started looking through some of your other writings. I think you write rather well. I think I may start following you.
I really enjoyed reading this, I think the tone really works - somehow the detachment makes it all the more troublesome, the fact that you're intentionally blocking the emotion from your writing makes it feel more emotional. Like the emotions are so strong that letting them into your writing would be too much. It's very clinical, somewhat like the hospital environment that you describe. I like 'You learn certain skills while living in chaos. You find yourself in a tight-lipped, red-eyed crisis control mode, where things like sleep and food and meltdowns don't matter.' as a line, the fact that you have listed food, sleep and meltdowns as though they are at the same level, but generally I think your style is very good, very controlled, again like the emotion you are withholding from the reader. I know to some extent what you have been through - my mum never tried to commit suicide, but she certainly talked about it when she was at her darkest moments, and that was not at all fun. I will be intrigued to see what else you write.
That's what I was going for, so I'm glad you picked up on it! Thank you so much. I'm sorry you've been through similar things, but it's always nice to learn we aren't alone. I appreciate it, thanks again!
these are simply my
opinions and are not
meant to imply that
you should agree or
disagree nor should
these prove to be
offensive in any
way; if I do come
then you have my
Magepresented by the
This article came
about after a
requested that we
write ten clear,
simple tips for
information can be
very useful, but
it down into
chunks is so much
easier. So without
further ado plea...
This feature is for
all the happy
couples in the
world, the love
shared in families,
and for the good
friends.What I see
in these pictures..
The love, the
tenderness.. This is
what I search for. I
really hope I will
find someone like
you already did.Look
upon the sunand
think of that...
`anmari has been spreading her infectious positivity throughout our community for over 6 years. Throughout this time Ana has been at the core of all things devious, passionately developing an eclectic gallery, helping organise devmeets, participating in chat events and also recently completed dedicating her time as a Community Volunteer. We are absolutely delighted to bestow the Deviousness Award for May 2013 to `anmari, congratulations! Read More