Cheese Puffs, Part 4

(Parts One, Two, & Three)

My impressions of these two excerpts…


Lux was coming. It’s such a simple first sentence. And it uses “was.” Break every rule, and all that. But I think it’s quite powerful. So, why? Partly, the unusual name. Who would be named something like that? But I also think the flat declaration carries with it a sense of foreboding, i.e. Lux was coming (subtext: oh no). Because I think if it was an unadulterated good thing that Lux was coming the sentence would be constructed differently, maybe as an “I” statement, i.e. overtly stating the narrator’s feelings toward Lux.

I like the opening paragraph because it introduces us to this character, Lux, and then it sets her aside, and lets us consider who she is and why her presence is unsettling to the narrator on our own. The author respects us enough not to bash us over the head with who Lux is right away.

As mentioned above, I like the use of “Northern Line” because I think it adds just the right amount of authenticity. I also like the set up: the protagonist is on her way home to meet someone who is coming to visit, but right now she’s on a train, with time to kill. This gives us some time to get to know her before we launch into the story. The narrator’s reflection here feels real, because it’s exactly the sort of thing one does when biding one’s time on public transit.

I’ll interrupt myself here to say there’s nothing in this excerpt that indicates the narrator’s gender, though it’s given away in the cover blurb (of course). I think a good part of my positive first impression of this book is that I wasn’t confronted with some female stereotype in the first page.

Okay. So I think the strength of this opening is that it tells us a lot about the narrator without having her tell us about herself directly. We learn about her via her observations of others. She singles out three fellow passengers—presumably there are more—two men and a woman. Why these three? Each of them has something about them that makes them stand out of the crowd. Would wearing sunglasses make it easier to draw under fluorescent light? Why is the other man sweating? Is he hot or having a heart attack? Why is the woman wearing not an ordinary sari, but a golden one—which seems like something special, not an everyday thing. Do her grocery bags hold ingredients for an exotic meal?

But then— the narrator considers how these people would look “transformed by anger.” Now this is interesting, because it’s unexpected. Why is she contemplating anger? Is she angry about something? She first considers their faces, then focuses in on their hands. Why is she thinking about violence, about what others are capable of, about punching, about blood?

You get the impression that their answers would probably not be what you would expect. And that neither would the narrator’s. That she has done, or considered doing, something terrible. That the question really is: How does she explain her actions to herself?

I like this beginning a lot, because basically it poses a lot of questions and doesn’t give out any answers. I don’t want the ending to be telegraphed on page 1. I do not read the last page of books before I read the first. I want to be intrigued enough to keep reading, and I want to feel that the author trusts me enough to get information that isn’t spelled out and to have patience to wait for answers / resolution and to know that not all questions have answers.

Overall impression: I like the narrator. She has depth. I can relate to sitting on public transport, contemplating my fellow passengers. I can relate to that interlude of knowing you have this amount of time to yourself before whatever’s at the other end. I like her thoughtfulness, the questions she asks.

She is essentially the only character so far. Lux is a mystery and the other three people are just reflections. This is fine. In 200+ words, I don’t need the narrator to have interacted with six other people. Plot development is essentially non-existent. But again, I don’t mind an author taking some time to introduce the protagonist, because I think relating to the protagonist is key. If I like the protagonist, I will keep reading. (I am much less likely to continue if the plot is entertaining, but I don’t care what happens to the protagonist.)

Thinking: So maybe the character-driven vs. plot-driven distinctions are correct, then?

To be continued…