Comments on Curtains, by Selena Jardine.

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From: Alexis Siefert
Re: Curtains, by Selena Jardine
Date: 11 Feb 2002 05:54:50 GMT

Okay, I wanna be first this time. I've been out of the tank for quite some time, and what a wonderful event to use to jump back in.

First of all, I'm not going to limit myself to 2 perfunctory "this part was worth reading" comments and try and pass those off as the "2 good things."

I've got two GOOD things to say (I've got more, but I want to save some for the rest of the participants. If they're dunderheads and miss 'em, I'll jump back in to bat clean up).

This is a delightful story. Simply wonderful. I love that it contains an expanded period of time (sorry, pun not intended) in a brief, under 4000 word story, yet completely tells the story. It doesn't get bogged down in the minutae in which it easily could.

Second, there is some beautiful, "damn, I wish I'd written that" phrasing in here. I'm going to quote a few, just to remind myself that someone else wrote them, and I can't steal 'em.

Marianne took longer to convince, probably because she'd known me for longer and had the clarity marriage can give you if you stay in it long enough. She used to stand just outside the sliding glass door, arms folded, and watch me. Marianne has a terrific figure that she keeps in shape by swimming laps every day, and she has the most beautiful Irish smile I've ever seen. I'd smile at her companionably and keep walking. I must have walked fifty miles around that pool before she smiled back.

Ah, I can see it. It's exactly how it would have happened. No malice, no cynical down-looking, just marital knowledge.

it was
March 15, because you don't forget a day like that, the day your whole life twists in your grasp like an animal

Oh cool. Are you SURE I didn't write that ... damn. Fine. It's hers.

There are some small repeated themes that I like (the food lists by category or alphabetically) that keep popping up in odd places. But my favorite is the crossed arms to take off her shirt. When I read it the second time, I KNEW it was going to work.

Okay, on to the tough stuff (yeah right, I'm hideously tough).

They're more specific than general. After the first full reading and the partial re-readings, I don't have any general complaints or suggestions about the piece overall.

Specifically though -

I made the discovery that
thousands of shuttered Europeans have undoubtedly made before me: Americans ...

I'm not sure about the reference to Europeans. I know he's been a shut in, but this made me go back to read whether or not he's a European transplant to the US, and then I had to figure out if it was important. It distracted me from what is an important part of the story.

By this time the big muscles of my
thighs were reacting to the workout and the adrenaline. "Fight!" they said, trembling. "Or flee!" And the lizardy back part of my brain muttered, " ...or fuck ..."

Sorry, wanted to quote that part - it's another "damn, I wish I had written that." Made me giggle both times I read it.

Sorry, I'm having trouble with the things to improve ...

Okay, in a few places the sentences are so chock-full of delightful images they become almost too much. I realize that this guy is looking at her and thinking it as almost too much, so in that aspect it works, but I had to stop and read 'em twice to separate out the clauses in my own brain.

Fex.

The girl bent over, her beautiful pale breasts answering gravity's call and turning slightly pear-shaped from the perfect apples they had been, and skinned off her running pants and underwear in one tangle, which she neatly

separated and dropped in the washer with the T-shirt.

At first glance it reads that her breasts pulled off her running pants and underwear in one tangle.

Minor point, perhaps, but it caught my eye and stopped me. The story is too readable to allow something to stop the reader. The pace shouldn't slow down at all.

Minor punctuation mistakes here and there (but I'm NOT going to start a comma vs. semicolon vs. period lesson here. The FT is too wet for lecture notes). They're probably not things that the average reader is going to notice, even at a subconscious level.

I adore the way you brought the two women together for him. One saved the marriage without causing harm to the other. Nowhere did she replace his wife, which is what would have been expected to happen.

Beautifully handled.

Oh yeah, great sex.

Perfect ending.

Thank you.

Alexis
Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing. - Clive James

ftp://ftp.asstr.org/pub/Authors/Alexis_S/ http://awe-kyle.ru/~Alexis_S/


From: DrSpin
Re: Curtains, by Selena Jardine
Date: 10 Feb 2002 23:14:46 -0800

In article <[email protected]>, Desdmona tabled ...

Curtains
by Selena Jardine

A balanced story, complete, about everyday folk. Wry humour, even a moral to the story. Nicely, perhaps lovingly, written, with a keen sense of intimacy.

I think a writer just came in the door.

OK, some picky points - if only because there have to be some. With trepidation, I raise tentatively the passionate issue of semi-colons. Let's not have another Semi-Colon Flame War. This is Fish Tank. We're allowed to state our views.

I didn't know anything about her, of course, still don't; all I knew was that I had seen an achingly beautiful girl of about twenty or so, studying at a kitchen table.

Semi-colon why? To me it says period. And if I was going to employ a semi-colon, it would be thus:

I didn't know anything about her, of course; still don't. All I knew was that I had seen ...

I don't know how long I stood there, but it wasn't long; I hadn't really even caught my breath before she stood up and closed her textbook and stretched, her eyes disappearing as she yawned like a cat.

Again, why? Period, better.

But I won't go on with it. The matter is highly controversial. In any case, the semi-colons do not detract from Selena's very fine story. It's just a side-issue.

As an observation, I don't think Humbert Humbert was ever going to get into trouble lusting after a 20-year-old. An older man may feel guilt, yes. But not jailbait guilt. That's an entirely different sort of guilt, more akin to cold terror, as any man who catches himself carnally watching a 14-year-old schoolgirl will confirm.

This brings me to a point of curiosity. Why the male POV? Not saying Selena should not do it, but writing opposite gender POV in the first person can be quicksand. Third person is safer.

This is in no way a criticism. Selena carried it off beautifully - maybe helped by her character, who was fat, soft, and insecure. In general terms, I find females who write male POV in first person tend to undercook the tostesterone. Selena did not do so here, however.

Of course, males who write female POV first person are worse. Some of that stuff is ludicrous.

Enough pontificating. "Curtains", by Selena Jardine, is a terrific story from a new writer still finding her feet in this neighbourhood. In the old Celeste days, I'm absolutely certain it would have been a "10,10,10".

Fish Tank continues its impressive ways.

DrSpin

* also at [email protected] and at http://ruthiesclub.com


From: Gary Jordan
Re: Curtains, by Selena Jardine
Date: 11 Feb 2002 09:26:14 GMT

Hi, Des! Hi, Selena!

The following is a first time submission by Selena Jardine. This is a complete story. It is 3,770 words in length. Selena is biting her nails in anticipation, so let's show her how much fun being in the FishTank can really be. FishTank guideliens apply:
1) 2 positive comments

Positive things:

First, as someone who once sold a car to force myself to walk five miles to work for the exercise, I can say that every last detail of the food/diet/exercise rings true. Been there, done that, had to buy all new t-shirts in smaller sizes.

I loved the part about open curtains, although my neighborhood seems to run to shears and blinds. There are so many little glimpses when you go walkabout in the evenings.

2) 2 things to improve

I wondered about the rumbling washer, when he opened his eyes after watching the young woman strip. I thought he was walking on the sidewalk out front - washers are rarely in front rooms. Even if visible through the house, they generally don't make enough noise to hear a rumble all the way to the street. Maybe he could see a vibration ...

I won't repeat the comma/semicolon/period observations, and they were the only other quibble I had.

I will repeat one thing: I think another Author just walked through the door. If this is a sample of a first attempt, I can't wait for the rest!

Gary Jordan
"Old submariners never die. It's not within their scope." http://awe-kyle.ru/~gary/ http://awe-kyle.ru/~gary/Clitorides/
http://awe-kyle.ru/~gary/ShonRichards/ http://awe-kyle.ru/spotlight.html http://storiesonline.net/


From: Shon Richards
Re: Curtains, by Selena Jardine
Date: Mon, 11 Feb 2002 13:43:59 GMT

"Desdmona22" <[email protected]> wrote in message news:[email protected] ...

The following is a first time submission by Selena Jardine. This is a complete story. It is 3,770 words in length. Selena is biting her nails in anticipation, so let's show her how much fun being in the FishTank can really be. FishTank guideliens apply:
1) 2 positive comments
2) 2 things to improve
3) Try not to repeat!
This story and its comments will be housed at:
http://awe-kyle.ru/~Desdmona/FishTank/base
Any questions about the FishTank can be addressed to me at: [email protected]
**************************************** Curtains by Selena Jardine

Two and two.

One thing I needed help with was the male POV. As a female writer's name is attached to the story, I attach a female character to the story POV. Granted, its annoying to say in the first line "I'm a fat male", but until that was confirmed, I had two seperate stories running through my head.

On the plus side, this is one of the best male POV's I've seen from a woman. Ignore what other people say about sticking to your gender when you write. I have found that when a story demands a POV outside of your gender, more times than not, it works for the writer. Don't let the failures of others discourage you :) I think this story captures a delightful inner conflict and it could only be caught inside the man's head. He wants that blonde. He wants her bad. I liked the honesty of his lust. Some writers would have mixed in too much "I love my wife but dammmmn!" Selena got right to the heart of the matter and showed how much he thought of her.

If you weren't inside his head and knew first hand how much he loved his wife, you would always doubt that his love for his wife was sincere.

As a negative I have to say, the line about Humbert Humbert eluded me. What? Did I miss a joke?

As another positive, I have to say the sex rocks.

It was a very good and intense story.


Head Warlock of the Coven of Bliss
Shon Richards
Adventure Stories of Mine and Others can be found at http://awe-kyle.ru/~ShonRichards/ Romance Stories of mine are hosted by Gary at http://awe-kyle.ru/~gary/

"The only thing more mysterious than a woman is what we expect from her."


From: Desdmona
Re: Curtains, by Selena Jardine
Date: 11 Feb 2002 14:02:17 GMT

Selena~

This is just a wonderful story. There are so many touches that make it great it's hard to pinpoint just a couple. I love the way you gave just enough information at each window without bogging us down. I think you coined it "photographs" instead of "video clips." And that's exactly how it was. Each glimpse gave just the right amount of detail. A slice of life. Superb!

I like the parenthetical lists. A great creative touch without stopping the flow of the story. I might leave out the, "oh shut the hell up, Billy" in the last list. I don't think it adds much, but that's my personal opinion. I'm wondering if there might be a place to add one more list later in the story that doesn't necessarily list food. Just a thought! (Maybe street signs that lead to Summerhill Dr.)

The thing about reading a story in the FishTank is you read it with a more critical eye than you might if you were just reading. And sometimes I think you have to look hard to find things to improve. This is one of those times. But with that in mind, there were a couple of things that popped up.

First,

"and I noticed that an enormous erection had tented out the front of my sweatpants."

This is the only point in the story that I questioned the male POV from a female writer. Do men just all of a sudden notice an erection? Wouldn't he recognize some stirring or twitching or some such thing? Not being a man myself, I can't be positive about this point, but I'm pretty certain that the organ in question doesn't go from limp to "enormous erection" without some kind of warning. And even if this phenomenon does happen, wouldn't Billy be even more conscious of it because it hasn't happened lately? I think the word, "notice" is what gives me trouble, as if it means if he hadn't looked down and seen the tent in his sweatpants he would never have known.

Secondly,

"The boys'll love having that kind of a food source in the family; they're at the age where they never stop eating."

This bothers me because of the history of the family. It's just the genetics/environment thing blaring at me. After all, Ty and Pete have been living with a 360 lb man. Kids learn what they live. I know Marianne is trying to be supportive in Billy's work choice. (It's one of the many things I like about Marianne) but I'm wondering if she could say something more along the lines of how a chef around the house could help teach the boys about healthy eating, especially because they're at the age where they never stop eating. Too picky? Maybe.

And before I forget, one slight inconsistency:

"That night, I was in love."

Billy waits until night to go running, ("I walked past house after house in the deep twilight of a March nine o'clock ...") so it's already that night. This is an easy fix. I don't think you even need the words, "That night."

And finally, my favorite part of the story, the part that made me say, "YES!" and gave me goose bumps,

"I reached for her, and never thought of the blonde girl at all."

Such a moment of clarity, of reality, of renewal in marriage! That hope that fantasies are fantasies, but it's nice to recognize real love as well. I loved it.

Thanks so much Selena for suffering through the jitters and posting to the FishTank. I can confidently say you have nothing to worry about.

Des

PS. Kudos to Uther for such a perfect title!


From: Jeff Zephyr
Re: Curtains, by Selena Jardine
Date: Mon, 11 Feb 2002 19:32:11 -0600

On 11 Feb 2002 14:02:17 GMT, [email protected] (Desdmona22) wrote:

Selena~
First,
"and I noticed that an enormous erection had tented out the front of my sweatpants."
This is the only point in the story that I questioned the male POV from a female writer. Do men just all of a sudden notice an erection? Wouldn't he recognize some stirring or twitching or some such thing? Not being a man myself, I can't be positive about this point, but I'm pretty certain that the organ in question doesn't go from limp to "enormous erection" without some kind of warning. And even if this phenomenon does happen, wouldn't Billy be even more conscious of it because it hasn't happened lately? I think the word, "notice" is what gives me trouble, as if it means if he hadn't looked down and seen the tent in his sweatpants he would never have known.

It sometimes can happen like that. There are sensations associated with erection, but some of that is the pressure against clothing. If loose enough, the right stimulus can lead to immediate stiffness. And the sensation may be mild enough not to be noticed, until observed - especially with the distraction he had.

The comparable sensation in women isn't always immediately noticeable, is it? Moisture and stiffness there can happen without always drawing attention to the area, can't it?

Now, he was unmoving, right? I could see him being unaware of his body, paying attention to what he was watching, and then suddenly noticing that his body reacted. I think that he would know that he was aroused, but not necessarily how strong the physical side of that arousal was.

The other thing is whether or not he found the erection itself noteworthy as something unusual. I'd need to read the story again to see whether he had problems getting erections (as opposed to sustaining and enjoying them with his partner).


Jeff

Web site at http://awe-kyle.ru/~jeffzephyr/ For FTP, ftp://ftp.asstr.org/pub/Authors/jeffzephyr/

There is nothing more important than petting the cat.


From: oosh
Re: Curtains, by Selena Jardine
Date: Mon, 11 Feb 2002 15:23:35 GMT

Negative points first. The phrase "for awhile" should be "for a while". "Awhile" means "for a while".

I wasn't happy with the phrase "in the windowsill" - a cat may sleep "in the window", or "on the window-sill", but I would have thought that only woodworm would actually find it congenial to sleep /in/ the window-sill.

The sentence beginning "When I opened them ..." seemed just a little awkward to me. And in the quoted sentence in the penultimate paragraph, I might have put a colon rather than a semi-colon - I'm not sure.

While we're on the subject of punctuation, I was surprised to see vestiges of some ancient controversy about semi-colons raised in the context of such an extremely fluent and well-punctuated piece of writing. Perhaps there are a few good writers who feel that they benefit by avoiding certain sorts of construction; but to seek to impose that self-restriction on the rest of us, flying in the face of a centuries-old literary tradition, strikes me as doctrinaire. It's like telling an artist that she must throw away part of her palette, and use only approved colours. Certain sorts of discipline may help certain artists working in certain styles; but surely we must acknowledge that there are other styles, for which those disciplines may not be appropriate.

Now for the positive things - which were far more noticeable to me. First, I very much appreciated the use of curtains and windows as a theme. They feature quite early on, and then gradually we lose sight of them, focusing instead on what the windows reveal. Then, right at the end, these two elements return, making a symmetry and signifying the withdrawal of the voyeuristic focus.

Then, the idea of the gift of the curtains is beautifully enigmatic: is it for her sake, or for his? Perhaps neither: perhaps it is just for the sake of a certain kind of rightness. Certainly it is a symbolic act, as the last sentence reveals to us: for the glow behind the closed curtains is, of course, the glow of conjugal intimacy. I think it is a mark of the very greatest skill to reveal only in the last ten words the key to the whole story, and unlock the secret of its metaphoric symbolism.

And what - apart from the sheer effectiveness of the ending, and the well-roundedness it gives the story - is the benefit of this device? I believe that upon re-reading the piece, we now see beyond the commonplace things - the window, the curtains - to what they symbolize. Re-reading the story is now a more intense experience, because this time we see things on more than one level. That, for me, is one of the attributes of art: that our understanding is enriched upon reacquaintance.

I thought it was beautiful.


From: spline duck
Re: Curtains, by Selena Jardine
Date: Mon, 11 Feb 2002 17:11:44 GMT

Great piece!

I really liked this story. Rebirth stories are always fun for me, and it reminded me of my own experience of suddenly being captured. I was in the back seat of my parents car when we stopped at a red light in a little town in the middle of nowhere. The love of my life was standing at the crosswalk, waiting for the light to change; I was smitten irretrievably caught. The light changed, and we started home. The face, the pose-they still stay with me.

This story manages the transition from addiction to health so beautifully. The feelings of internal conflicts and change in even the best relationships are treated lovingly and with compassion - beautiful. The spelling and grammar are very good; the use of commas is almost perfect. There are phrases scattered throughout that are gems.

Two paragraphs need some work, in my opinion. The very first paragraph doesn't work for me. There are several things that could be improved. First, I think it is too long. Short stories should start with a short, strong paragraph to grab the reader. There's all kinds of great sentences here, but I think they could be shuffled and split into two or three paragraphs, and the story would start out more strongly than it does. And I think the first sentence would be much stronger if it were changed from "It happened because I used to be fat" to "I used to be fat." That could even be the whole first paragraph: "I used to be fat."

The other paragraph is a central one to the whole story:

"The girl bent over, her beautiful pale breasts answering gravity's call and turning slightly pear-shaped from the perfect apples they had been, and skinned off her running pants and underwear in one tangle, which she neatly separated and dropped in the washer with the T-shirt. I saw one flash of the powderpuff of blonde hair between her legs, and then she turned her back to me and began putting detergent in the washer. I could see the nape of her neck where the heavy knot of honey-colored hair was, the sweep of her spine, the jut of her shoulder blades, the heartbreakingly lovely curve of her ass, the glitter of downy hair on the backs of her thighs (she doesn't shave all the way up, I thought, frantically trying to distract myself, and then, ah Christ, all the way up ...). Standing there at the washer, she was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen, and according to my brain cortex, I wanted her more than I'd ever wanted any other woman. My erection was monstrous, my usually docile cock alerting me to its iron presence (and to what it wanted, now Billy now) with every beat of my heart. I found I was pressing it with the side of my hand, as if to try to pacify it. I wanted to burst through the kitchen window like the Incredible Hulk, fasten my lips around that small hardened nipple, and stroke that soft blonde powderpuff until we both melted into delicious oblivion. Instead, I squeezed my eyes shut, still pressing ineffectually at my raging hard-on, and counted to ten. When I opened them, she was gone from the window, the only sign that she hadn't been a hallucination the econ textbook and the rumbling washer. I couldn't tell if I was more disappointed or more relieved. What I could tell was that it would be a truly bad idea for a respectable (if hefty) member of the marketing community to be found standing on a woman's lawn squeezing his dick, so I turned around and walked back the way I had come. My mind was filled with that glowing picture, her smooth skin, the supple curve of her breasts. I'd walked almost a mile before my erection was completely gone."

Great writing, but first of all it's too long. It feels like the author just got carried away writing and forgot to break it up-in love with the image. I would start a new paragraph with "Standing there at the washer" since that is where observation switches from external to internal. The other thing that concerns me about this is the level of detail that Billy is able to see. To see the hair on the back of the thigh probably means that he is very close and the light inside is very bright. Somehow, I am used to houses being set back from the sidewalk a bit, and this shift surprised me. I would have been happier if there had been some mention of being so close to the window. In my own experience, this is more likely to happen if I'm walking down alleys, rather than when I'm along streets. This paragraph marks one of the large transitions in the story; it's very important in several ways. One way, one that is not directly acknowledged, is that the scenes in the windows before were like photographs. Here it is either more like a movie or more like life.

Great work.

D.


Spline Duck's stories can be found at:
asstr.org/~duck

[email protected]


From: Iconoclast
Re: Curtains, by Selena Jardine
Date: Mon, 11 Feb 2002 19:14:09 GMT

[email protected] (Desdmona22) wrote in news:[email protected]:

1) 2 positive comments
2) 2 things to improve
3) Try not to repeat!

All I can say is Wow! That's not very helpful, but it's my biggest reaction. Positive comments are not hard to write for this story. I got a very compressed but but complete picture of another person. All of the important things for this story about the character were laid out in very compact form, and made the protagonist come alive. I cared about Billy and his family and what would happen to them.

Also positive was the showing of the inner struggle Billy has, and his recognition of the desire he feels and the reality of his reactions. His heightened desires when he is back in bed with his wife, and his rejection of the fantasy of being with the unknown young woman had the ring of Truth, and enhanced the reader's empathy for Billy. It is rare to see such a realistic and ethical examination showing up in erotic literature. No, I'm wrong. Such dilemmas do appear in erotic literature, but not very often in sex story writing and never in stroke stories. This is definitely erotic literature of the highest order.

I can't think of any major changes that would improve the story. But since nothing is perfect, here are some minor quibbles. Grammar and puctuation seemed fine to me, and I won't get into the debate about the proper use of semicolons. However, the paragraphs seemed too long in some cases. This is just a personal idiosyncrasy, and I tend to search for paragraph breaks whenever the current paragraph gets too long. A very long paragraph tends to put me off a bit.

One story point that jarred me a bit was the lack of support coming from Marianne in the first part of the story. I mean, the guy had already lost 50 pounds, and instead of encouragement he gets the occasional smile while walking around the pool. I can see the reason for this in the context of the story, but it still bothered me. For example, the paragraph beginning "Mark had said that I had to get some exercise ..." I would start a new paragraph about halfway through, starting with "Sometimes, after it became clear that this was going to be a habit, ..."

On the whole, all I can say is that I wish I had written this story. That's as good a review as it's possible to give.

Iconoclast


From: Rev. Cotton Mather
Re: Curtains, by Selena Jardine
Date: Mon, 11 Feb 2002 22:31:12 GMT

This is my first attempt at critiquing a Fish Tank story. Why, oh why did I have to decide that this was to be the day??

Okay, here goes:

First, I thought the Humbert Humbert reference, while humorous, didn't fit the situation. Humbert wasn't morbidly obese, nor was a 20-year-old the object of his desire.

Secondly, in the next-to-last paragraph, I found the whole reference to becoming a chef a little too abrupt. It's fine that Billy wants to be a chef, and will have to go to school to learn the craft, but the two sons, around 12 years of age, probably wouldn't enjoy the kinds of meals that Billy was learning to create (unless he was going to Pizza School or something), nor would they appreciate being moved away from their friends and schools just because Pop wants to go back to school.

On the positive side: it is a well constructed, finely thought out story that flows very nicely. You created a nice, slightly edgy quality to Billy's first glimpse of the girl, and the tension he felt were very well described.

The end of the story, too, is just enigmatic enough. Unlike some others who have commented on the ending, my first thought about the gift was that Billy was hoping the girl would hang the curtains, so that the gift that he had received from her would remain his, and his alone, hidden from all other eyes.

Well done, Selena. Here, I've been saving this seat next to me. Can I buy you a drink?

RCM

Reverend Cotton Mather
Senior Pastor,
Church of the Erotic Redemption
http://awe-kyle.ru/~ReverendCottonMather http://storiesonline.net

*Something clever is supposed to go here, I think*


From: Nicholas Urfe
Re: Curtains, by Selena Jardine
Date: 11 Feb 2002 14:42:14 -0800

Pozzies, to borrow celia's terminology:

The voice; the glorious voice. Dead on, even to the guiltlessly guilty "what if" machinations, imagining the (pointedly ridiculous) life with his nubile vision. About the Humbert Humbert joke: yes, lusting after a 20-year-old when one is 40-something is of a whole 'nother order than lusting after a 14-year-old. But the jokes are nonetheless made, by oneself and others. It works.

Details and word choice. Scintillating; sparkling. "Powderpuff," say, which was perfecto; the slippery material of the nightgown, and the use to which it is put, ditto. Also, and an added bonus: the mechanics of sex with weight, neatly conveyed without making too much of it.

Negatories, or nits (to coin my own):

"Lover." The word sits oddly in his mouth, and his use of it is a false note in the otherwise sterling intro. Come up with something else to avoid spoiling that voice.

Becoming a chef - moving - dropping out of his job - we're talking about rebirth, yes, but there's a lot of pain and sacrifice and disruption involved in a shift like that. Covering it more might derail the momentum of the story, but leaving it there, glossed over - it feels like it's a pat ending. (To a certain extent.) Something needs to give or shift, to make it more plausible, less of an irruption. He does need to move, I think, for the gift to work; he needs to make a break with his old life, yes. But not this much, or not in this way. Hmm. - His job as a marketer isn't really mentioned at all, aside from the reference to a member of the marketing community stroking his cock; to suddenly, at the end, have his job be a part of the stress that he needs to break with without any prior groundwork ... Hmm.

But this is a stellar, standout story. And the gift of curtains is beautifully, perfectly oblique. (One hesitates to suggest a reference to the larger Billy "draping" himself with generous clothing ... Hmm. Hmm. Might be too precious, but I love the symmetry. Then, I love symmetry.)

But damn. Thanks.

- As far as the use of the semicolon goes, in the instance cited by Spin: "I didn't know anything about her, of course, still don't; all I knew ..." My own take is that it's not precisely grammatical (which it isn't, granted) so much as it is suggesting the tone of voice, the flow of his voice; keep in mind that commas a flat, almost toneless pauses in the flow, while semicolons are longer, with a little rise at the end; then read that sentence aloud, and I think you'll hear it, and recognize it.

Oh, one last nit: "the only sign that she hadn't been a hallucination" is, in fact, two signs: an econ textbook and a rumbling washer. The inconsistency niggled. Might as well lose the washer, instead of making it "signs"; he's outside, and he can't hear it.

Best,
- n.

"That resolved, I took from my library a heady novel by Henri Bordeaux that I had purchased expressly for the purpose of beating down rebellious erections. By the seventh line it had achieved its purpose."

its purpose indeed:
http://awe-kyle.ru/~nickurfe/ift/
http://ruthiesclub.com/


From: Uther Pendragon
Re: Curtains, by Selena Jardine
Date: 11 Feb 2002 22:23:47 -0700

1) 2 positive comments

1 I've said this before, but I'll say it publicly. Selena has the relationships of a marriage down solidly. The knowing the other forever, the clarity about motive and the ability to be absolutely wrong about motive, the comfortable lust.

2 I really like the critical place the girl has in the fat man's life. It isn't as if she ever knows, or anybody else ever knows. But she is critical in his life.

2) 2 things to improve

1 Whose house is it? Why doesn't he see others in the house, her parents?

2 I think that anybody trying to buy curtains would have to provide measurements for the windows.

3) Try not to repeat!

Neener, neener, neener. I saw it first!


Curtains
by Selena Jardine


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From: Always Horny
Re: Curtains, by Selena Jardine
Date: Tue, 12 Feb 2002 08:39:54 +0100

Curtains
by Selena Jardine

First, this is not at all my kind of story. Outside of FT, I would have skipped it over: I'm not into Voyeur, and there is far too little sex for my taste. Nor is this character someone I would hang out with.

(BTW, Des, I'm not sure "voyeur" is an appropriate code: isn't it meant for people who watch others have sex? Here, it's more like shy fantasizing.)

So, even though this is not my cup of tea, I'll try the FT process anyway.

Curtains is nicely written. Grammar, flow, etc never get in the way of reading, even though the sentences are on the longish side.

The main character is well outlined and made mostly credible in few sentences. The lonely little single sex scene is sweet.


What did not work for me:

I too read through the whole first paragraph thinking the character was a woman. Jarred me badly.

The motivation of Billy does not work out for me: why would this guy let himself go this fat, then turn around on his own like this. Somehow I don't buy the fear passed on by the doc-in-law.

Now, some suggestions. Not things that are broken, but that might improve further:

If I made myself unable to fuck my beautiful wife for months, all thru my own fault, would I expect her to just sit there and wait unfucked? Not for very long ... The suggestion is that Billy should worry about this. And that Marianne could hint that enough is enough. (all of which could supply a motivation for above).

An other is to make him go through a back alley or a path along a tree patch to see this gal naked. 1) people don't have washrooms giving unto the street that much, and 2) beautiful young girls don't expose themselves to the main street - they learn pretty fast if they do.

For a story supposed to be told by a man, there is a lot of watching and feeling and fantasizing, but not much doing. It feels like a girly thing to me. You may want a little more action. Of course this is all my tastes and prejudices showing through.

And while we are on the topic of my tastes and prejudices, unless we are writing a therapy story i/o a sex one, there is room for 2-3 more sex scenes in a story of this length. Maybe even improving sex: from a beached whale being reward stroked by his caring nurse/wife, back to a real man making love to her. Of course, again this is all my ...

(Besides being my colored by my personal tastes, it is entirely possible that the above suggestions just wouldn't fit with the particular genre this story is in. As said, it is not my cup of tea.)

Hope this feedback can help a little. Congrats on an excellent first story.

AH


A_H_01 at hotmail. com


From: Desdmona
Re: Curtains, by Selena Jardine
Date: 12 Feb 2002 13:07:26 GMT

From: [email protected] (Always Horny)
(BTW, Des, I'm not sure "voyeur" is an appropriate code: isn't it meant for people who watch others have sex? Here, it's more like shy fantasizing.)

Well, I wasn't uncomfortable at all with the coding, but I thought it was worth a look-see in my dictionary, and it says:

vo-yeur (voi-yur) n. A person who derives sexual gratification from observing the sex organs or sexual acts of others, esp. from a secret vantage point.

So I'm inclined to believe that voyeur is indeed a correct code for this story. (He saw her naked, and he got a hard-on.)

But to be perfectly honest, I'm not the one who codes these FishTank stories. That is completely up to the author. Good Lord, I suffer enough angst over trying to code my own stories. So I'll not take that privilege (pain?) away from someone else.

Des


From: Father Ignatius
Re: Curtains, by Selena Jardine
Date: Tue, 12 Feb 2002 19:10:52 +0200

[Piggy-backing: the original post never showed up here]

This is an unusually good story unusually well-told. Applause for the snippy cab-caller. My remarks on this story, which is already better than most at ASSM, are thus perforce at a fine-detail level that one might not approach in examining a less polished product.

Reading this story, I was reminded of "A High Wind in Jamaica" which I read years and years and years ago and haven't thought of for ages. In that book, and in this story, each sentence advances the narrative. I like that relentless development. A lot. When I have tried to do it myself, I have found it tough, even gruelling, to apply the criterion, sentence by sentence, to a story and watch the self-indulgencies get flayed away by this paint-stripping technique. It really puts a high polish on the story, though, and is one of the marks that distinguish the serious in intent from the casual hobbyists. Well done, Selena. I liked the fugue-like mode of the story where hooks, like Marianne's assumption that Billy is losing weight for her and the kids, get picked neatly upon the way to the kicker and the last resolution on the last chord sends the audience off with a feeling of a good job well done. The word "ricercar" struggles its way out of my deep subconscious and sits there, with spaniel-like eyes and drooping ears when I don't take it out for a walk.

I made a false assumption, based on the gender of the writer, about the gender of the narrator and so, for the first page or so, believed that Marianne was the lover of the big bull-dyke narrator. I was thus slightly distracted by the use of the word "screwing" which, although used more widely by some, has always seemed to me a word that specifically means male-dominant genito-genital coitus. When I finally got up to speed, I had to go back and start over, and that wasn't a great story-reading experience for me. I've seen many a mocking crowing addressed at men who try to get away with writing from a woman's PoV. On gender-switching narration, my vote goes against. Although I'm struggling to put my finger on it (ho ho) I found myself wasting cycles thinking, "But having an erection is not like that." It was an acute-observer's well-thought out description of what it seems to be like to have an erection, but it wasn't the real thing. It's not like riding a bike, either. These issues niggled me and, sensitised, so I ended up also taking issue with elbows not palms and the relative positions of the clit and the ridge of the head of the penis and which surface of the penis is the "top" and so on.

On a related note, a husband edging back into his wife's good graces doesn't say, "Take this off." He makes a polite request, or takes it off, or something. The imperative is not used. Likewise, I would say that "My dear one" is used by a self-parodically-inclined husband who is secure in being good buddies with his wife. Not quite the right flavour for here.

There's some jargon-phrase, that I forget, that labels the case where a word has been toxified by over-discussion. "Areola," here and now, belongs in this category. Written, I dare say, before the recent thread but, still, there it is.

The unpunctuated lists of foodstuffs didn't happen to work for me. I know why the author went there, I believe, but I don't believe that she got what she was going for. I thought that alphabetical lists were an over-the-top false note. I was distracted by ambiguities, potential and real, about where the commas might have gone - "Big Mac sundae? That's not even alphabetical ...". Broccoli was a way-bad choice for 'b' - banana-fudge sundae, say, would have been in better keeping with the context.

It seemed to me that the doctor being the narrator's brother was a hook that was left open. It wasn't necessary and nothing else in the story made it have any point.

I liked it that the writer had the imagination and self-confidence to explore physical unattractiveness. It's far too unusual around here, IMHO.

The pale-blue void sentence is cumbersome, unclear and didn't add anything necessary. Likewise, the beautiful Irish smile distracted. I know about beautiful Irish eyes, but not smiles. A properly-finished story, IMHO, no longer wastes reader-cycles in inadvertent brow-crinkling "Huh?" moments. For example, if it took all that time for him to venture outdoors, didn't he have a job? What is a "perfect" curve, for a cat? Likewise, "cooking in a wok" sounded to much like "cooking in a robe." " ...saw her making stir-fry in a wok," or summat, maybe?

"But I get ahead of myself" is redundant. Ditch it without loss. Likewise, ", as they say," and ", evidence of her own desires."

The omniscient narratrix made a few unwelcome intrusions into the first-person narrative, such as in the clumsy sentence about shuttered Europeans. Also that preachy sentence about desire, the prime mover, and that wrong-note "disabuse her of the notion." This is Selena speaking, not the story's less complex narrator.

" ...more like photographs than video clips." Lovely, but the young man needed to be standing shirtless in the glow of the refrigerator. I'm not sure why, he just does. "Reasons of euphony, this isn't Latin," he hand-wavingly mumbled. " ...lizardy back part" of brain also lovely. The Lester Young sentence (WTF that is: you lost me there) is missing two "with her"s required by euphony.

The Summerhill Drive sentence is unwieldy. Needs the fine brush.

I had no problem with recognising the Humbert Humbert riff and, IMHO, the writer can assume that the general reading public is up-to-speed on him. A nubile 20yo is scarcely a Lolita, however. That is, a legitimate reference was inappropriately applied, IMHO.

I'm more accustomed to seeing "adrenalin" than "adrenaline." Maybe it's a rightpondian thing. No biggie, just a little niggle. Be consistent in the way you present numbers. If he topped out at three-sixty-two, he shouldn't hit 160 later. He should hit one-sixty.

The important kicker sentence is unwieldy. I got mentally cross-threaded between "Curtains." and the stage direction to ring down the final curtain. I propose, " ...shook out the soft folds and realised that someone had given her curtains." Of course, the most damning thing in the whole story about a female writer writing male PoV is that, of course, a mere male would have screwed up specifying the curtains somehow. ;-)

Ping Des: Yep, flirting is much quicker and easier than this LitCritShit.



"Father Ignatius" <[email protected]> http://awe-kyle.ru/~FatherIgnatius/Stories.html The Web's Best Illustrated Adult Fiction is at http://ruthiesclub.com/


From: celia batau
Re: Curtains, by Selena Jardine
Date: Tue, 12 Feb 2002 15:15:55 -0800

hi Des and Selena!

we liked the story. :)

pozzie one: we liked his evolution. it felt natural, not rushed, and everything kind of worked out naturally. like how he blended the two women and still kept a hold of his wife and made the relationship stronger.

pozzie two: we liked the sense of distance, both around the pool and the two miles to the girl's house. it seemed to reinforce the mental distance he was going through at the same time.

neggie one: the pool. Chlorinated water in summer, but he's walking in all weathers until spring, so how can his wife be swimming every day? swimming in unchlorinated water? swimming at the gym?

neggie two: the curtains. it made us very sad. :( he got the courage to finally leave the backyard and make himself visible (via the headlights), and discovers that others are making themselves visible too. this isn't vouyerism, like he says, but sharing. and it's through this sharing that he discovers the girl. and it's that sharing and interaction that helps him make the change. so how does he thank her? he gives her a gift that will block her from sharing and interacting with anyone else. :(

-cb

"Desdmona22" <[email protected]> wrote in message news:[email protected] ...

The following is a first time submission by Selena Jardine. This is a complete story. It is 3,770 words in length. Selena is biting her nails in anticipation, so let's show her how much fun being in the FishTank can really be. FishTank guideliens apply:


From: Uther Pendragon
Re: Curtains, by Selena Jardine
Date: 11 Feb 2002 22:24:10 -0700

It seems to me that most of us are dealing with the wrong issue here.

The original complaint was that the reader got fairly deep in the story thinking that the narrator was a woman.

The reader thought that because the author was a woman, but that isn't the real problem.

One thing that bothers me about the Brennan stories is how one of these stories strikes someone who hasn't read the others. (And, of course, how I can manage to keep from boring the guy who has read all the others.) Neneh can't help me on this; my friends can't help me on this; they all open a story of mine titled "For ..." expecting it to be a story of a married couple named Bob and Jeanette.

But the new reader seeing "Jeanette" can't guess that this is the narrator's wife.

Anyway, in this story, there are clues in the first paragraph that the speaker is a man:

Food filled all my waking thoughts, like a lover, and instead of writing a lover's name on scrap paper or sketching the curve of her breast, I used to make lists of food: sometimes alphabetical (apple pie broccoli coq au vin), sometimes by category (hot fudge caramel marshmallow sauce whipped cream nuts cherry). If I'd had a lover, I doubt I could have spent more time daydreaming about screwing her than I did fantasizing about food - the food I'd just had, and when and where I would have my next chance at some. It got so that the accepted practice at our house was that Marianne and the kids would put whatever they didn't want on my plate at dinner, and I would always find room for it.

Still, the paragraph is fairly far along before it is clear that this is not an FF story.

Maybe the opening:

It happened because I used to be fat. And I mean really fat, so fat that people would sometimes turn their heads as I walked down the street, wondering how I could maintain that kind of bulk.

Could be written something like
It happened because I used to be fat. And I mean the fattest man I ever saw, so ....


Anyway, the point isn't that authors should/shouldn't write from the POV of the opposite sex. The point is that you should (almost) always provide your readers with all necessary information very early in the story. You shouldn't give them a chance to make default assumptions if their defaults are wrong.

(Of course, M1ke Hunt wrote a pretty story in which the sex of one character comes as a major surprise. But that was a major point in the story. For that matter, M. K. Smith wrote a story in which the sex of both main characters is a surprise.)


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From: Jeff Zephyr
Re: Curtains, by Selena Jardine
Date: Wed, 13 Feb 2002 12:21:56 -0600

On Tue, 12 Feb 2002 19:10:52 +0200, "Father Ignatius" <[email protected]> wrote:

[Piggy-backing: the original post never showed up here]

I need to get my reactions in on the original as well. As you say, that is harder than just discussing things, or even flirting.

I made a false assumption, based on the gender of the writer, about the gender of the narrator and so, for the first page or so, believed that Marianne was the lover of the big bull-dyke narrator. I was thus slightly distracted by the use of the word "screwing" which, although used more widely by some, has always seemed to me a word that specifically means male-dominant genito-genital coitus. When I finally got up to speed, I had to go back and start over, and that wasn't a great story-reading experience for me.

In this, I think that it really does need to explain the gender of the narrator right off. But then, I think that is a good idea in most stories, unless there is some good reason to conceal it. One can get by with the codes if everyone else obviously involved gets mentioned early. But though it is a natural thing to assume that an undefined narrator is the same gender as the author, that can be wrong.

Screwing, I can see some girls using that, just like fucking is used for just having sex.

I've seen many a mocking crowing addressed at men who try to get away with writing from a woman's PoV. On gender-switching narration, my vote goes against. Although I'm struggling to put my finger on it (ho ho) I found myself wasting cycles thinking, "But having an erection is not like that." It was an acute-observer's well-thought out description of what it seems to be like to have an erection, but it wasn't the real thing. It's not like riding a bike, either. These issues niggled me and, sensitised, so I ended up also taking issue with elbows not palms and the relative positions of the clit and the ridge of the head of the penis and which surface of the penis is the "top" and so on.

The tricky part is figuring out how to write it so as not to have such niggles. I found the erection thing close enough to "real" to feel perhaps like a less than perfectly described situation from a male writer. But again, how to make it more perfect? Something to think on, not a thing I can do on short notice (except that the arousal's physical effects might have a bit more mention).

It seemed to me that the doctor being the narrator's brother was a hook that was left open. It wasn't necessary and nothing else in the story made it have any point.

Maybe a bit more to it? Billy had thought about losing weight, but his brother finally helped give him guidance to do that. Not just advice, but direct planning on how to go about eating less and such. That a doctor would be able to help with, more than some random person.

I liked it that the writer had the imagination and self-confidence to explore physical unattractiveness. It's far too unusual around here, IMHO.

It is, and it is handled nicely.

OK, almost nicely. My missing nit is why his wife didn't seem to mind his lack of amorous attentions. Gaining weight is an annoyance, but giving up sex (or being unable to perform) tends to have lots of other side effects. As it was, I felt that they still did have sex, it just was ordinary and not often.

Ping Des: Yep, flirting is much quicker and easier than this LitCritShit.

Jeff

Web site at http://awe-kyle.ru/~jeffzephyr/ For FTP, ftp://ftp.asstr.org/pub/Authors/jeffzephyr/

There is nothing more important than petting the cat.


From: oosh
Re: Curtains, by Selena Jardine
Date: Thu, 14 Feb 2002 01:06:21 GMT

"Father Ignatius" <[email protected]> wrote in news:[email protected]:

I was rather surprised to see how sensitive many readers were to the issue of the sex of the narrator. (By the way, I think it's a question of sex rather than gender.) It was disclosed rather late on, I suppose, but I thought it was revealed naturally, when it became important to know it. I don't subscribe to the idea that everything about a character has to be explained in the first paragraph. So long as it is explained gracefully, and before it needs to be for the sake of the story, then I think the author has done her job. I don't think short story writers should be pressurized into pre-empting in the first paragraph all possible wrong conclusions the reader might jump to.

There's some jargon-phrase, that I forget, that labels the case where a word has been toxified by over-discussion. "Areola," here and now, belongs in this category. Written, I dare say, before the recent thread but, still, there it is.

In the recent thread, I think it served only as a subject-line while people agonized about the formation of Greek and Latin plurals! The a-word itself seems to me to have escaped unscathed!

It seemed to me that the doctor being the narrator's brother was a hook that was left open. It wasn't necessary and nothing else in the story made it have any point.

This is a valid criticism. In some societies, it is considered "unethical" for doctors to treat relatives.

O.


From: Jeff Zephyr
Re: Curtains, by Selena Jardine
Date: Wed, 13 Feb 2002 22:48:59 -0600

It took me a while to get around to doing this, so I'll probably repeat somewhat. But first, quick comments:

I liked the story a lot. The theme is interesting. The rebirth of desire leading to renewed joy in life, and restoration of the marriage, is really nice.

Billy needs to introduce himself earlier, and maybe explain his situation a bit better. I think of it like this - imagine you were reading this, what things would you ask "Billy" after each paragraph? If you can have a helpful person do this, it can sometimes help out with a story (any story, not just this one). You don't need to stick every explanation in, but you should have more answers.

As it is late - both in local time and in responding - I'm going to go over things more than just the two and two thing. I hope that is OK.

Marianne always had this look, like she couldn't believe I would really act as the family garbage disposer, but she didn't say anything after the first few times it happened. Needless to say, our sex life wasn't very good. I missed it sometimes, but mostly, who cared? (apple cake banana nut bread cream puffs.)

The appetite for food and even the excessive weight doesn't explain the sex life problems. It left me guessing about how bad the problem was. Health problems might lead to sexual problems, but the weight alone wouldn't have to do that. And maybe it is just me, but a man who really didn't miss his good sex life, and didn't care about his wife missing a good sex life, has other problems than a mere obsession with food.


The term "morbidly obese" began to haunt me unpleasantly.
Mark had said that I had to get some exercise, and once I'd started thinking about it, I couldn't stop.

I think he needs to explain more about the situation. A fear of death is a kind of obsession, but it deserves more than one sentence. Also, it isn't just exercise which would take off the weight. I mean, unless Billy had become very sedentary, it is the food intake which is the main factor. A doctor would advise a diet change in conjunction with exercise.

So one Monday in October, I went out to our back yard and started walking around the pool. I felt like an idiot, waddling around and around the pale-blue void where our chlorinated water was in summer, but it was exercise, right? And the next day, my calves were sort of sore, which I figured was progress, so I did it again that night. And again the next. Sometimes, after it became clear that this was going to be a habit, one of my sons would come out and talk to me for awhile, tossing a lacrosse ball in the air, not meeting my eyes, but there. Marianne took longer to convince, probably because she'd known me for longer and had the clarity marriage can give you if you stay in it long enough. She used to stand just outside the sliding glass door, arms folded, and watch me. Marianne has a terrific figure that she keeps in shape by swimming laps every day, and she has the most beautiful Irish smile I've ever seen. I'd smile at her companionably and keep walking. I must have walked fifty miles around that pool before she smiled back.

Here, we see that his son somehow lacks respect for him, or at least his actions (and maybe isn't very affectionate), and the same applies to his wife. He seems to be friendly with her, but we don't see it reciprocated. This part makes him seem like a rather sad case, not for being fat, but for letting that obsession drive him from the rest of his life.

It was the boredom that finally got to me, along about spring. Shame about my body had started me walking in my own back yard, but I'd lost fifty pounds or so over the winter, walking in all weathers around that goddamned pool, and I never wanted to see either the pounds or the pool again. At 310, though, I was still too big to want to show myself in sweatpants to the whole neighborhood, even if I was walking faster now. So I waited until dark, laced on my shoes, and set out into the cold spring evening. I can tell you the date, too, it was March 15, because you don't forget a day like that, the day your whole life twists in your grasp like an animal you picked up, thinking it was dead, only to find it shockingly warm, slightly damp, and friendlier than you expected.

Ides of March too :-) He seems ashamed not of being seen just walking - neighbors (and perhaps friends in the neighborhood - or at least, parents of his kids' friends) would have seen him going out to work or whatever. No, it is being seen exercising that makes him ashamed. He doesn't say why he is that way, he merely implies it.

After I got used to the fresh, cold
air and the occasional set of passing headlights, I made the discovery that thousands of shuttered Europeans have undoubtedly made before me: Americans don't draw their curtains at night. I walked past house after house in the deep twilight of a March nine o'clock, their windows glowing gold, watching frozen tableaux or scenes of rapid motion. The first place I passed, there was a man at an upright piano and a little girl with frizzy black hair playing with a Dalmatian on the floor. Next house, I could see a woman in the kitchen doing the dishes, pushing her hair back from her face with a damp wrist. She looked sort of like Marianne from behind, my favorite figure, with a narrow waist but wide hips and a perfect round ass, delightful to look at and lovely to hold, as they say. The next house had the TV on and everyone was sitting in the blue light watching a Western - I couldn't tell if it was a movie or an old TV show like Bonanza. I was enjoying myself now, and I stepped up the pace, making my glances more like photographs than video clips. A young man, shirtless in the glow of the refrigerator. A crying boy of maybe six, pointing into the other room. Scared? Telling on his sister? I couldn't tell. A beige striped cat sleeping, perfectly curved, in the windowsill. I felt omniscient, as if I were the narrator of all these stories; I didn't have any sense of myself as a voyeur.

I think that this paragraph is too long. A hazard, trying to tell a lot in a short while. I do wonder a bit about his discovery - a slow night drive could have spotted some of the same things, as flashing glimpses at the least.

But paying attention to outside details is something I could see doing, if I didn't want to think about myself while walking or jogging.

And then, as I stepped into the rectangle of light cast by a window about two miles from my own house on Summerhill Drive, I saw her. I didn't know anything about her, of course, still don't; all I knew was that I had seen an achingly beautiful girl of about twenty or so, studying at a kitchen table. I stopped in my tracks, breathless from the quick walk and the cold air, and took in some more details. She was blonde, with her hair in a knot at the nape of her neck, and she was sort of athletic-looking, the way girls of twenty so often are. Her arms were tanned, but not like she'd been on spring break somewhere sunny, just as if she habitually spent time outdoors when she could. She wore a plain white T-shirt and navy running pants, and she was sitting with a thick textbook of some kind - biology? economics? I couldn't see - on the table in front of her.

We've got some hints so far about where the story is set at. It has cold winters, it is in America, and the environment seems suburban-residential rather than city (only houses passed - or at least mentioned - after a two-mile walk?). Now, we get a street name (a big detail, and I wonder why it is there if others are blurry).

The house location, to see her that way in such detail, must be near the street, right? Or else, Billy's eyesight is very good.

Now at this point I wasn't thinking what you're thinking: fat middle-aged man leering at nubile 20-year-old, will the real Humbert Humbert please stand up. All I could think was how beautiful she was, how absurdly young and beautiful.

Well, this reflects his viewpoint of the situation. A lot of other men might have considered leering at a very sexy 20 year old perfectly normal, regardless of their age. Most especially, in a voyeuristic situation where being seen was unlikely.

I don't know how long I stood there, but it wasn't long; I hadn't really even caught my breath before she stood up and closed her textbook and stretched, her eyes disappearing as she yawned like a cat. Then she crossed her arms, the way I'd taught my sons to do it when they were little, grasped the hem of her shirt, and pulled it off. My heart, which had been slowing, gave a galvanic leap in my chest, and I heard the click in my throat as I swallowed. The girl took the T-shirt and dropped it in a washer that was standing open near her. Then she reached behind her back, elbows out in that uniquely feminine posture, and unclasped her jogging bra. Her breasts fell free in the golden light from the kitchen lamp, and I swear as I watched I could see her nipples harden as they came into contact with the cooler air. By this time the big muscles of my thighs were reacting to the workout and the adrenaline. "Fight!" they said, trembling. "Or flee!" And the lizardy back part of my brain muttered, " ...or fuck ..." and I noticed that an enormous erection had tented out the front of my sweatpants. I leaned against a tree for support, unable to take my eyes from the window.

A lot goes on in this situation. We discover that the kitchen is big enough to have a clothes washer, and yet the girl seems content to undress right there, for no obvious reason. We, as readers, may not know her motives. But as critics and writers, we should guess them.

So, here are my guesses:

Ok, evil guess #1: He wandered off the road through the yard as a short-cut. That way, he got to see a window which otherwise wouldn't be visible from the street. A girl, knowing this, might enjoy the thrill of naked exposure without real risk, since only a "peeping tom" is going to see her.

But that doesn't seem to fit the situation. So next, I imagine a large house on a "point" property, the kind with roads on three sides. Lots of suburbs have them, with curving roads and cul-de-sacs interleaved. But cities rarely do - often, only one side of the house is visible from the street, and just as often in the cities they have closed curtains.

The large kitchen/laundry nook is exposed on a low-traffic side, maybe one of those dead-end turnarounds without houses or traffic. Now, in many places, the laundry area is in the basement, and a surface kitchen-level laundry suggests a different kind of house. Something big and flat, maybe not even a two-story home, and perhaps no real basement either.

As well, the window wasn't one of those little "let the light in over the sink" sorts, but one which gave full exposure past her waist. Maybe a sliding-door kind?

Still, her exposure suggests an exhibitionistic desire. Especially if the window was big enough to see most or all of her, and it is hard to see how she wouldn't be aware of that situation.

The girl bent over, her beautiful pale breasts answering gravity's call and turning slightly pear-shaped from the perfect apples they had been, and skinned off her running pants and underwear in one tangle, which she neatly separated and dropped in the washer with the T-shirt. I saw one flash of the powderpuff of blonde hair between her legs, and then she turned her back to me and began putting detergent in the washer. I could see the nape of her neck where the heavy knot of honey-colored hair was, the sweep of her spine, the jut of her shoulder blades, the heartbreakingly lovely curve of her ass, the glitter of downy hair on the backs of her thighs (she doesn't shave all the way up, I thought, frantically trying to distract myself, and then, ah Christ, all the way up ...). Standing there at the washer, she was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen, and according to my brain cortex, I wanted her more than I'd ever wanted any other woman. My erection was monstrous, my usually docile cock alerting me to its iron presence (and to what it wanted, now Billy now) with every beat of my heart. I found I was pressing it with the side of my hand, as if to try to pacify it. I wanted to burst through the kitchen window like the Incredible Hulk, fasten my lips around that small hardened nipple, and stroke that soft blonde powderpuff until we both melted into delicious oblivion. Instead, I squeezed my eyes shut, still pressing ineffectually at my raging hard-on, and counted to ten. When I opened them, she was gone from the window, the only sign that she hadn't been a hallucination the econ textbook and the rumbling washer. I couldn't tell if I was more disappointed or more relieved. What I could tell was that it would be a truly bad idea for a respectable (if hefty) member of the marketing community to be found standing on a woman's lawn squeezing his dick, so I turned around and walked back the way I had come. My mind was filled with that glowing picture, her smooth skin, the supple curve of her breasts. I'd walked almost a mile before my erection was completely gone.

Another really long paragraph. It really does split up, doesn't it, into the topics of the exposure and then his departure.

A mile, with an erection? Maybe, but walking tends to reduce that effect. The desire, the memories, might bring it back, but sustained arousal like that would tend to make him rather uncomfortable. Or else, drive him to want to find some private spot to "take care of the problem."

Not noticing the erection at first, maybe. But the sustained one, a mile walk for a guy who walks slowly is 15 minutes or more, that is harder to accept. But how to describe it?

How about: "I tried to calm myself, but each time I thought of her my erection popped up again. I struggled with this situation, afraid to touch it at all, worried that someone might see me in such a state. A big fat man walking around at night, horny as hell. What would anyone think?

I thought about work. I thought about Marianne. I even, God help me, imagined eating everything I'd given up. Nothing mattered, I kept thinking about that lovely girl. I could do nothing about it, but wait, hoping that exercise and fresh air would clear my head, and body."

That night, I was in love. Or maybe in desire. Not lust, which, though fine in itself, implies a grasping that I didn't feel, but desire, the prime mover that gets us from one place to another every moment of our lives. I lay in bed as Marianne brushed her teeth and I thought about the girl, imagined huge changes in my life: living with her, sleeping next to her, watching television or listening to music - Lester Young, maybe - imagined helping her study, going to her graduation. Then, further, imagined that glowing skin under my fingers, her pliant warmth, imagined teasing her clit to hardness with my tongue, feeling her guide my head with one hand as she grasped the sheets with the other, gasping and stiffening in pleasure. I embellished for a moment - I'd be the first man to taste her pussy! she'd be so grateful she'd stay with me forever! - and then I took a deep breath. Get real, I told myself. Imagine meeting her parents, the shock and consternation on their faces. Imagine introducing her to my sons, only eight years' difference between them and their new stepmother. Imagine Marianne.

This does get right at the heart of things. He wants her, but tries to make it something other than merely physical. Not just running in and taking her, but something more than that. Then, he ruins his fantasy on purpose. He lets his negativity come back, letting it save himself from the embarrassing obsessive feelings he has. He can't accept that he could really have such a relationship as he imagines. It is too unreal, too unlikely, and he doesn't feel comfortable even pretending that it could happen.

As if on cue, Marianne slipped into bed beside me. Instead of setting the alarm clock and turning over to sleep as she usually did, she propped herself on her right elbow and threw her left arm over me.
"Billy?"
"Yeah, honey."
"I want you to know I'm really glad you're doing this exercise thing. I - " She was flushed pink with emotion or embarrassment, down her neck and onto the tops of her freckled breasts that I could see at the low neck of her nightgown. My cock began to stir. "I was so cynical all winter, I thought for sure you'd give up. Hell, you know. You always did before. But going out of our back yard like you did tonight? I guess that said commitment to me somehow, like it wasn't just your private attempt. I know you're doing it for me and Ty and Pete, and honey, I love you for it." She leaned over and kissed me, and at the touch of her generous mouth, my erection sprang to life as if it had never been away. Just like riding a bike, I thought indistinctly. My hand moved tentatively to the swell of her hip beneath the covers, and instead of moving away, she rolled toward me so that the point of her pelvic bone fit comfortably into my hand. "Mmmm," she breathed, and I wasn't going to get - or need - any more encouragement than that.

Here, we see a reaction to his lustful experience. However, we also have the comment "as if it had never been away." I know, he said his sex life wasn't very good, but he never said he had problems with erections. It is implied, but if he really was having problems like that, I think it might be better spelled out earlier. Also, the problem might not be with erections, but getting and sustaining them with his wife. Still, how long has he had those problems? The strain on the marriage might show strongly if it has gone on for a long time.

I moved my hand up to the swell of her breast, found the nipple already hard, and made an involuntary noise in the back of my throat. I circled it gently with my fingers, using the slippery material of her nightgown to glide over it again and again. Her hand was roving over my bare chest, slipping into the waistband of my boxers and out again, avoiding my cock except for a teasing brush now and then. I stopped her for a moment, whispered, "Take this off," and watched as she crossed her arms, grasped the hem of her white nightgown, and pulled it off over her head. It was that movement that did it. In that moment, my Marianne, with her full breasts and wide hips, the red hair springing away from her forehead, the fiery patch of pubic hair, the tip-tilted nose, utterly familiar, was also a stranger, a slim-hipped honey-blonde athlete twenty-five years my junior, and I was lost in love and desire.
I slipped an arm under Marianne and rolled her onto her back, then moved on top of her, carefully propping myself on my palms so as not to hurt her with my weight. I looked into her eyes, wanting her to understand something I didn't even fully grasp. After a minute, she nodded almost imperceptibly, and I bent and took her right nipple, the more sensitive one, into my mouth, sucking and licking and rolling and tugging it between my lips. I left it for a moment, opened my mouth as wide as I could, and enveloped her left nipple, gently pulling the wide areola into my mouth and caressing the whole pebbled area with the flat of my tongue. My thigh was between her legs, my cock resting against her right thigh, and I could feel her moving her hips so we rubbed against each other. The blood was beating in my ears. I went back to her right nipple, circling the hard nub with my tongue and this time nipping it slightly. "Oh!" she said, and her eyes flew open in pleasure, "Oh, I like that, don't stop," and as I continued, she slipped her hand down between our bodies and began a slow expert massage of my cock, squeezing gently at the head and the base at each sweep.

A nice active leap into sex.. finally. OK, it does fit the tale, but sometimes we can get impatient. The girl-watching scene wasn't bad for setting this up, though.

Marianne seems excited, but not surprised by this treatment. That suggests that the "bad sex life" was neither non-existent nor completely unsuccessful, at least for her. This scene makes me think that his comments about a bad sex life really meant infrequent, not unsatifactory when it did happen.

My arms were tiring rapidly, and I rolled onto my back, bringing Marianne on top of me. As she settled, trapping my hard penis between her pussy and my belly, I could feel how wet she was, evidence of her own desire. Leaning forward over me, breasts swinging tantalizingly close to my mouth, she rocked back and forth the length of my cock, the ridge of the head rubbing against her clit at the top of each sweep. My palms were holding that marvelous ass. Her eyes were closed, mouth slightly open, and her whole pale skin was flushed pink. God, she was beautiful. Her rocking speeded up, the big muscles of her strong thighs bunching, and now her pussy was slipping up and down the top surface of my cock with a delicious wet noise like a long kiss. I could feel the beginnings of my orgasm building, but Marianne was almost there; she was shaking and I could feel the pulse of her pussy in the thin skin there. I fought it, but the desire of the day welled up in me and I knew I wouldn't last long. I reached up and rubbed my thumbs across her sensitive nipples, twice, three times. That did it. She threw her head back in what looked like joy and pain and triumph, and I could feel the gorgeous contractions of her orgasm in her belly and along the whole length of my cock. As soon as I felt that, I let go. I gave a long, low groan as I came, watching Marianne's eyes, the first jet striking me on the chest, the others flooding my lower belly. Marianne kept rocking gently, squeezing me with her pussy lips until I was drained and limp. Then she rolled off. Her eyes glinted sleepily in the darkness and she smiled. "Mmmm," she said again.
"Mmmm," I agreed, "pass the Kleenex, would you, my dear one?" We cleaned ourselves up and went to sleep nestled together for the first time in a long time, maybe in years.

Conversely, this last line suggests a relationship which lacked even the intimacy of cuddling in sleep. That confuses me. Either the love was dying, and they were merely living together in a sexless friendship (or worse), or maybe they normally slept in separate beds? It makes me wonder, because sleeping in the same bed tends to lead to close cuddling, and at least attempts at sex.

Hey, if the guy can eat food, he can eat other things. His tongue probably is in good shape, no matter how the rest of his body is working out. Was he not even doing that? Inquiring readers will wonder.

In the days and months that followed, I couldn't stop thinking about that blonde girl. She attended meetings with me, sat at dinner (where my desire for food had substantially diminished, nudged out of the way somehow), curled up on the couch as I watched PBS or baseball. I tried to stay away from her house on my nightly walks. Leaving the house, I'd tell myself firmly that I was going the opposite direction, and I'd start boldly away from that particular glowing window. But desire, like the lodestone, drew me without my even knowing it, and almost every evening I found myself in front of that house. I never saw her naked again, though she was often there. I saw that beautiful chiseled face intent in study, or laughing on the phone with someone; I saw her cooking in a wok, crying over a novel (it looked like it might have been Wuthering Heights, but I can't be sure), stretching after a run, and once painting her toenails in that curious doubled-over posture that only women can seem to achieve. I don't know how many times I thought I'd go knock on her door, imagined her reaction, different every time - polite surprise, hostile rejection, immediate reciprocal lust - and walked or jogged on past.

This does show nicely the obession with the woman. I can understand obsession, but it usually wears off without some more hints of the trigger with spawned it. While maybe her getting naked was a one time fling, a bit of self-passion - or maybe she wasn't alone in the house? Anyway, night views lead to things like nightgowns, maybe even underwear or T-shirts, halter tops and boxers, stuff like that. Not naked, but the kind of thing to reignite the desire as naked lust, not just an obsessive unrequited love.

Maybe, his memory of that first night is a repeated obsession. He didn't mention seeing that girl intensely when he had sex, but if he masturbates - a likely thing for many men - I think he'd be thinking about her, not his wife, as a sign of a sexual obsession.

But I think that the occasional semi-nude (or suggestive of potential nudity) would drive him on even more.

Those nightly workouts were surreal, set apart from the rest of my life. I'd come home, sluice off the sweat in the shower, and climb into bed. More and more often, Marianne was there waiting for me, and as the pounds came off, our sex life improved, and with it the intimacy that had begun to slide away. Marianne thought I was losing weight for her sake, and I didn't disabuse her of the notion, any more than I explained that occasionally, as I buried my face in her fragrant pussy or my prick in her mouth, I was half with her and half with a girl I'd known for a year without knowing her name. Besides, like anything you practice from the outside in, it was becoming true. I loved Marianne, and held her, and began, hesitantly at first, to talk to her about the things I really wanted, things I hadn't known I wanted until recently. I didn't want to stay in marketing; I wanted to go back to school and be a chef. "Put all this food experience into something useful," I said, and laughed nervously, glancing down at what remained of my belly. I weighed 230 then.
But Marianne didn't laugh. She nodded sharply, twice, and said, "Go on and apply. I'll get a job wherever we move for school. The boys'll love having that kind of a food source in the family; they're at the age where they never stop eating." I could feel the tears pricking the back of my eyes, and Marianne leaned over and kissed me. I reached for her, and never thought of the blonde girl at all.

This shows a transformative change, the rebirth. He realizes that he is changing, and decides to let go of his past.

It was about six months after that that we moved to Poughkeepsie so I could become a chef. I was down to fighting weight, 190 pounds. The night before we left, I went for my evening run, but instead of jogging, I walked slowly. I had a package in my hands. In a couple of familiar miles, I stood before the girl's house. Even now, I didn't want to knock, or frighten her at all. I could see her in the window, shining blonde hair falling around her face, beautiful as a summer day. It seemed that with my desire for her, all my other desires had unearthed themselves, too: ambition, love, hunger. I left the package on her porch, turned, and walked away. Imagined her opening it, curiosity turning to surprise on that lovely face as she shook out the soft folds of material, the slow realization of what someone had left her. Curtains. And I went home to my own glowing window.

The lines about moving away are a different topic than the rest of it. You could lead out with a line about "But on the night before we left, I went jogging one last time in the old neighborhood." Then, the new paragraph about the package.

Curtains makes sense, as a sign of his letting go of his obsession. But they aren't very practical as a gift. I imagine that she'd have no idea of what they were intended for. And, of course, they would neither fit the windows nor decor of the kitchen, unless Billy has done a lot of interior decorating research :-)

But they really aren't a gift for the girl. They are his own thing, a concrete reminder of his decision to give up his obsession in exchange for a real relationship with his true love, his wife.


Jeff

Web site at http://awe-kyle.ru/~jeffzephyr/ For FTP, ftp://ftp.asstr.org/pub/Authors/jeffzephyr/

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From: PleaseCain
Re: Curtains, by Selena Jardine
Date: 15 Feb 2002 05:29:12 GMT

You are quite a storyteller! Bang, right from the start: good opening. The sex is hot, dripping with details to give the scene immediacy. Most important of all is that you created a believable, three-dimensional character, complete with strengths, weaknesses and a clever voice. Then, you followed and changed him throughout the story. I think that kind of strong characterization is the most important thing you can accomplish toward writing good fiction. My hat is off.

As improvements, the contrast between his two lovers is a strong point, and therefore the inclusion of another voyeuristic interlude - followed, of course, by sex with his wife - might strengthen the story and its theme, particularly if this additional peeking episode in some way differs from the first one, reflecting the emotional and physical changes in the protagonist (for example, he might somehow react differently, or concentrate on a different aspect of the blond girl or Marianne). Just an idea.

Also, break up the long first paragraph into smaller sections. After the third sentence, and maybe once more later. It looked daunting when I first opened the file.

But quibbling aside, it's a treat for me to read someone new, with a fresh style and perspectives. Every once in a while I wonder why I still kick around this joint; then I read something like this, and sit up: Oh, yeah ...

Cain


From: Anne747
Re: Curtains, by Selena Jardine
Date: 15 Feb 2002 13:34:00 GMT

Okay, I'm cheating again (I do that far too often). Most of what I would have said about the story seems to have been said already. That's what I get for not opening the story thread until Friday.

I was really just going to address the narrator's gender. To me there were enough clues early on about the gender. If I hadn't known from the other thread, I think I would have assumed male from very early on.

Of course, that might be simply a woman's view of what a male narrator sounds like. ;-)

btw - an excellent contribution to the FishTank. Thanks for letting us see it.

Anne

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From: Ray
Re: Curtains, by Selena Jardine
Date: Fri, 15 Feb 2002 13:26:19 -0500

Selena,

Excellent contribution to the Fish Tank. This really is a well crafted story, complete with a developed story line and well crafted Character. Very well told and detailed without becoming didactic or pendantic.

Of course almost everything I found, both positive and potentially needing a little improvement, have already been well covered. The only things I noted aside from those covered were a few very tiny things, where I felt the wording choices could have been slightly different. I won't try to list them but will simply provide an example ...

Second Paragraph: "Mark (that's the doctor, he's my brother-in-law)" might have been easiler reading as "Mark (my brother-in-law, the doctor)"

Again, great story - I had to walk away from it once, to cool down - always a sign of a great stroy in my book.

Keep them coming like this and you'll you'll have a devoted fan following in no time.

:^}

Ray


From: Uther Pendragon
Re: Curtains, by Selena Jardine
Date: 17 Feb 2002 06:22:24 -0700

oosh <[email protected]> wrote:

I was rather surprised to see how sensitive many readers were to the issue of the sex of the narrator. (By the way, I think it's a question of sex rather than gender.) It was disclosed rather late on, I suppose, but I thought it was revealed naturally, when it became important to know it. I don't subscribe to the idea that everything about a character has to be explained in the first paragraph. So long as it is explained gracefully, and before it needs to be for the sake of the story, then I think the author has done her job. I don't think short story writers should be pressurized into pre-empting in the first paragraph all possible wrong conclusions the reader might jump to.

I disagree.

And the information was disclosed in the first (admittedly very long) paragraph.

Still, you need to convey information in the story. And you need to convey it in an order which keeps reasonable readers from jumping to conclusions. Perhaps you shouldn't feel pressured to counter every wrong conclusion, but you should still inform your readers. "Hah, you thought this; really it's that," has a point in some humor stories. In most stories the tendency should be avoided.

"Father Ignatius" <[email protected]> wrote in news:[email protected]:
There's some jargon-phrase, that I forget, that labels the case where a word has been toxified by over-discussion. "Areola," here and now, belongs in this category. Written, I dare say, before the recent thread but, still, there it is.
In the recent thread, I think it served only as a subject-line while people agonized about the formation of Greek and Latin plurals! The a-word itself seems to me to have escaped unscathed!

I'd agree. It is a word which is seldom necessary, but it is still totally innocent.

It seemed to me that the doctor being the narrator's brother was a hook that was left open. It wasn't necessary and nothing else in the story made it have any point.

Brother in law. Presumably, although that was never stated, the wife's brother.

This is a valid criticism. In some societies, it is considered "unethical" for doctors to treat relatives.

More to the point, it is something of the "Russian author syndrome." I'd agree that it is totally unused, and therefore unnecesary, in this story.


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From: Selena Jardine
Re: Curtains, by Selena Jardine
Date: 19 Feb 2002 09:38:05 -0800

First of all, allow me to say that I am absolutely overwhelmed by the response to my story. Thanks so much to all those of you who responded to it; I appreciate the time you took to read it and to analyze what you liked about it and what you thought could have been improved. I am very much impressed with the literary-analysis skills of so many of the people who frequent this joint. The FishTank does just what it is supposed to do.

Things that make you go hmmm: the thing I was most worried about in my story was whether the sex would be sexy, since this is my first attempt at a full-fledged erotic story. This does not appear to have been much of a problem. It is not much of an exaggeration to say that the thing I was least worried about was punctuation, and that sparked mild debate. Perhaps the thing I was second-least worried about was people thinking that my narrator was a woman, and that sparked much lengthier debate. C'est la vie, say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell.

I understand that Humbert Humbert wasn't lusting after a twenty-year-old. I know it's a different genre of lust. But as Urfe said, people make the jokes, and Billy is a self-mocking sort. I think it's readily defensible.

BIG thanks to those who pointed out niggles where my male point of view, ah, flagged, or however you want to put it - where I got physical things wrong, for instance. That is extremely helpful. Also helpful were the bits where Father Nat pointed out my own intrusions into the narrative. Yep, there I am, aren't I? Thank you, I'll just slip out through this little door. Pay no attention to the girl behind the curtain. (Heh.) I disagree, however, that I need to say anything at all about measurements for curtains. The curtains are symbolic, people. They could be any size at all, and it wouldn't matter.

The washer in the front room is based on the house next to mine, where the washer is in the kitchen and you can see it from the sidewalk. It stays, but the rumbling couldn't possibly be seen/ heard from outside, and that goes. Thanks.

Long paragraphs are a horrible weakness of mine, an Achilles heel that goes all the way to my shoulder blades. I can never bear to break off. sigh I think it's related to Russian Author Syndrome. Thanks for being so gentle about pointing it out, all those that did.

Many, many other suggestions were made. Many of them will be implemented. A few will be resolutely ignored. (No offense, Always Horny, but even though there's room for three or four more sex scenes, I don't think I'll put any more in.) You were all wonderful about this, and I really look forward to passing the gauntlet again when I have something worthy of your attention. Thank you so much!

Selena
[email protected]


From: Uther Pendragon
Re: Curtains, by Selena Jardine
Date: 22 Feb 2002 17:39:22 -0700

[email protected] (PleaseCain) wrote:

You are quite a storyteller! Bang, right from the start: good opening. The sex is hot, dripping with details to give the scene immediacy. Most important of all is that you created a believable, three-dimensional character, complete with strengths, weaknesses and a clever voice. Then, you followed and changed him throughout the story.

No one can deny that Billy, especially at the beginning of the story was THREE DIMENSIONAL.


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From: John McMullen
Re: Curtains, by Selena Jardine
Date: 27 Feb 2002 08:06:29 -0800

Uther Pendragon <[email protected]> wrote in message news:<[email protected]> ...

"Father Ignatius" <[email protected]> wrote in news:[email protected]:
It seemed to me that the doctor being the narrator's brother was a hook that was left open. It wasn't necessary and nothing else in the story made it have any point.
Brother in law. Presumably, although that was never stated, the wife's brother.
This is a valid criticism. In some societies, it is considered "unethical" for doctors to treat relatives.
More to the point, it is something of the "Russian author syndrome." I'd agree that it is totally unused, and therefore unnecesary, in this story.

I'll leap in, quite late - and unable to add two new things in either direction - but there is a potential use for the doctor to be Billy's brother-in-law. It is - if Selena so wishes - a characterization device, and it lays the groundwork for Billy not to cheat later on.

It's a story (and a good one) in a field where melodrama is common, and early in a sex story we readers could be forgiven for thinking that, oh, Billy's going to lose the weight and have a mad affair with a twenty-year-old girl and learn the True Meaning Of Life, or that he will have Buddy Love's secret formula cross his desk at marketing by the next paragraph. It's not that kind of story.

But here's what it says to me, and I might be reading too much into it: Billy is fat. He knows he's fat; it surprises almost no one when they are told that three hundred pounds is more than a smidge over average weight. And because Billy has an ego, like most of us, he doesn't want to go see the doctor. But he does. Because the doctor is family.

Not just because his wife is nagging him, but because the doctor is also family.

I infer that family is important to Billy. This double emphasis on family makes it more likely to me that Billy starts walking, and that Billy stays faithful to his wife.

Could Selena make this connection more clear? Possibly. Does the fact that the doctor is Billy's brother-in-law do nothing for the story? Not to me.

John


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