If you read my last blog post you’ll know I accidentally sent a story about a boy disenchanted with the Catholic church to a Catholic publishing company, asking for a critique. Fearful of the slaughter I would be subject to, my amazing husband agreed to take the brunt of their fury and censor it for me before relaying the content . BUT eight minutes after he dropped me off at the airport my phone buzzed. An email from the Catholic publishing company. I was to spend a week 5000 miles away from my husband without him to protect me from the blazing fires. I had no choice. I had to read it myself. Unabridged. This is how a Catholic publishing house responded to my story:
God Turned Up Uninvited
I thoroughly enjoyed this memoir. It is original, and full of vivid detail and moving anecdotes. You deal with big questions in a grounded and authentic way. Both the process of disillusionment and that of forgiveness are convincing. Your prose style is attractively lyrical, witty and economical. The title and the first paragraph immediately create intrigue. Detailed critique below:
- ” and I certainly never caress magical jewelry while uttering incantations” This graphic description shows up this practice very effectively.
- Your fluent, confident voice convinces me of the impossible! I love the precise detail of God’s arrival: ” sitting on the fallen trash can I hadn’t picked up in eight months”. The capitalisation of his elaborate title is great.
- I didn’t understand “burning cherry” – a joint perhaps?
- I love how God answers in your own words: ” “Just to warm my divine hands on your fire,””.
- ” I knew that was a sin, Ma had smacked me upside the head before for not keeping my eyes shut when I prayed.” I’ve never heard that rule but I like your childish logic and sympathise with your uncertainty.
- ” soggy cereal. It was like soft pieces of skin in lukewarm milk” – is a suitably disgusting image!
- ” Father Murkowski new commitment” – should be “Murkowski’s”.
- At the beginning the focus is on your mother. I thought you had no Dad but later you mention him. I wonder why he did not shovel the snow.
- ” Even if I had something really funny to tell him, he wouldn’t laugh.” Jimmy’s seriousness is touching
- ” the heavy plumes of smoke bellowing”. Bellowing means shouting or roaring. Do you mean smoke billowing? (Author’s Note: Yes I do. Oops.)
- ” I’m the space between everywhere and everything.” Ooh that is a good answer!
- ” which dribbled down my neck and down my collar.” – “under my collar” would save you repeating the word “down” and be more accurate. (Author’s Note: Good observation, I need to pay more attention to that in my writing)
- ” excited, honored, humbled and unworthy” You capture that peculiar Catholic mix of privilege and contemptible sinfulness.
- ” Then, when he wasn’t smirking, he was staring at the service sheet which I knew concealed a smutty magazine.” This is in stark contrast with the image of the solemn boy who wouldn’t even laugh at your jokes before Mass.
- ” for bringing Father Murkowski his talismans and paraphernalia at different points of the ceremony.” Your ability to paraphrase is refreshing!
- ” picked up from Salvation Army” you need to carefully proofread your text to avoid omitting small but essential words – “the” here. Reading your text aloud slowly will help you to catch these. (Author’s Note: Oops. Critiques are helpful!)
- ” “But there are many ways up the mountain, aren’t there? Do you think Ma would be happy if she was as free as you? Thinking you know the best route to the top is a very dangerous philosophy.”” I found God a bit confused and contradictory here. (Author’s Note: Don’t we all?)
- ” I suddenly realized I had no idea at what point we were at in the service.” this contradicts the earlier claim that you could “stand up and sit down at all the right moments” while daydreaming your way through the service. (Author’s Note: Ah, but Mickey had fallen asleep, and wasn’t in the congregation but at the altar, waiting to pass the cruets.)
- Even though you had prepared us earlier in the piece, Jimmy’s death comes as a huge shock.
- ” my eyes pressed so tightly together I could see stars in the hot redness of my mind” is powerful.
- “standing, sitting, kneeling, crossing ourselves, repeating, mumbling.” The litany of activities reinforces your feeling of futility about it all.
- ” and ventured out into the adventures..” The repetition of sounds doesn’t work. (Author’s Note: Oh yeah. It sounds awful.)
- ” a routine to protect my Ma from her fear of the unfamiliar” – unfamiliar doesn’t seem to be a strong enough word here. But the list of grievances is convincing.
- ” Since you are mostly space, then you are mostly Me.” I like God’s logic. The dialogue here is great.
- The magical orange tree is wonderful. A tree’s normal growth suddenly seems a miracle and of course there is a nice reference to Jimmy.
- ” your faith in you is a lot more valuable than your faith in me” makes great sense.
- “ I felt the waxy skin of an orange and squeezed the fruit. It squirted a fresh, acid citrus into the outdoor air. It was real, alright.” I would suggest saving the fruit itself for the very end.
- “ galaxies to ignite, eternities to measure” the first works, the second not. Why would he want to measure them?
My quibbles are mostly minor matters of word usage. This is an accomplished and imaginative piece of writing. Well done and good luck in the next round of the competition.
Needless to say this constructive critique was a weight off my shoulders. And it made me wonder: what else is fear preventing me from doing?