As your fellow Rising Star I knew that I was expecting a high calibre of writing. I said in my email to you that I find this story terrifying and I do. It parallels with far too many familiar things from my own experiences and for that reason I initially struggled to think of where to begin. For a boy with too many words, this is a rare occurrence and you probably deserve a kudos for rending me speechless.
By now you know that when reviewing I tend to use the same lens as I would for a piece ready to be studied, placing it on a scale with works that are polished and published. By looking at various levels of your writing I hope to offer you some honest, constructive criticism. Do not be offended by anything I say, or if I do cause an affront I hope your will recall that these are solely my opinions and I will do my best to show not just where flaws may lurk but also how you can improve them, as all we writers aspire to do.
You have a very poetic style of writing, rhythmic, patterned and that peculiar, enviable way of writing that echoes the way that we speak. Sometimes your phrasing is a little too poetic and I’m going to point out a couple instances where the language becomes somewhat obscure. Similarly, you have some moments where
Based on what I’m about to say I’d like to recommend a couple of things that you may have already read or seen but if you haven’t you might enjoy seeing how others engage with some of the themes that you deal with here. The first is Equus by Peter Shafer – it has a reputation that does it no justice, it’s not about a boy that has sex with horses, it’s about psychiatry and a middle-aged psychiatrist with his patient. It looks at the parental relationships, how childhood traumas shape youth and ideas of passion – what drives us. I think you’d really enjoy it, either on stage or as a text. Similarly, consider these: An Interpretation of Murder (Jed Rubenfeld), Warehouse (Keith Gray) and a couple of interesting psychology books too: Dissociation in Children and Adolescents: A Developmental Perspective by Putnam is very well-written and I found it fascinating, if a little heavy sometimes. Also, if you’re at all intrigued by other psychological phenomena, Oliver Sacks’ The Man That Mistook His Wife For A Hat, looks at some really fascinating cases.
First some little grammar/syntax things:
• His grey eyes, already infamous, were clenched as well, and a single tear fell into the space between his hands.
This line is rather fragmented and could perhaps be altered slightly to make it less stilted. Eg. His already infamous eyes were clenched as well and a single tear fell into the space between his hands. However, this example would still include the passive that I think may be better active – this moment is present and the verbs should probably reflect that.
• He finished off half a bottle of some gauche tap water Pepsi struck gold marketing to people who used the term 'hydrating' in the office or the mall.
I have no idea what you mean by this sentence – I can’t tell if you need more nouns or verbs or if it’s just a punctuation thing. At first I figured I was being useless but I still can’t make heads or tails of it. As I understand it... he’s drinking water from a pepsi bottle? It’s a very beautifully rhythmic line, one of the ones that I think would be perfect in poetry, albeit confusingly, but in the context here I think you need to clarify.
• His father still does
Again, I’m not entirely sure how this phrase fits. What does his father still do? I realise this is a reference to the abuse and if this is an American phrase that I’m not quite getting then ignore me but the line doesn’t quite follow from what has been previously said.
Those are just a couple of things I noticed that stood out to me as needing a couple of tweaks. Most of the rest of the full sentences I thought were very well written and as I said above, I enjoy your style. However, a couple of pure diction-type things could be worth noting as well.
For one, you start the majority of your sentences/paragraphs with nouns or pronouns. Varying your sentences will create more of a sense of showing instead of telling. It’ll also convey the internal drama – if you emphasise the activity of his mental world you could juxtapose it against the stilted conversation between Abigail and Preston in the mundane.
The story is about internal, mental experiences and you integrate elements of the surreal, the supernatural. The effect you’re aiming for is the defamiliarisation and I wondered if you could do more in terms of the uncanny to draw out that weirdness. The uncanny is pretty much when real, everyday events take on a disturbingly literary or fictional quality which is what has happened in your story. The Puck-William disassociation is a version of the Brechtian transformation of the world around us into something alien. Already you’re using animistic, ventriloquistic elements and of course the ‘ghostly’ but you can emphasise this even more than you do by using some of the following:
– perhaps when you begin there’s a poster of the comic strip ‘Peanuts’ (aka Charlie Brown); the idea that Will has ‘doctored’ the memory is also an example that could be played upon, maybe there’s a doctors jacket in the room etc. You’re already very close to doing that with ‘Carleton Brown’ – it seems like even his amicable/romantic attachments could then become locked into the strange
– using repetition of particular key words, particularly verbs or adjectives but in slightly different ways and contexts can also make something more defamiliar. Imagine for example describing something mundane: the ‘clenched fist’ to his ‘clenched eyes’ for example, now consider how else that word might apply – perhaps Puck attempts to clench onto the rapidly morphing strains of reality, or feels his pain shift as if a band has unclenched from around his ribs.
Voice vs Silence
– could you find relevant quotes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream? Some that could be interesting from Puck:
• Lord, what fools these mortals be!
• Night’s swift dragons cut the clouds full fast,/And yonder shines Aurora’s harbinger;/At whose approach, ghosts, wandering here and there,/ troop home to churchyards.
• Now to scape the serpent’s tongue,/ we will make amends ere long;/else the Puck a liar call.
Also when it comes to ‘silence’ – are there ways you can emphasise the idea of miscommunication or oddness – as if ‘something would have passed in life between us... the moment was so pronounced that it would have taken but a little more to make me doubt if even I were in life’ (Henry James, The Turn of the Screw). Play with sounds, they're often the most uncanny of all our senses.
The only comment I thought worth mentioning on a critical level is simply that I was wondering about the play – you skip straight from the pre-curtain to post-curtain with Carly? That’s why Will takes the pain away from Puck – so he can take part. Yet you skip over the act. I feel like you need a bridge, it could be a brief onslaught of sound or lights or movement but you miss the bit in between. An image of Puck in his element, perhaps even written in an objective third person distinct from Puck’s internal dialogue could work well here.
However, my first impression once I’d read Doppleganger the whole way through was that this is a short story dominated with static images and dialogue. It’s also about an actor, about a performer. Wouldn’t it be interesting if you could turn this into a script? Complete with stage directions you could do so much with this sequence in terms of the stage.
The three parts for example could be the perfect one-act play. You open with the image of a strained young man, body battered and mind fractured. He checks himself over with a medical precision that comes from years of practice. His motions could be stiff, his attempts to stretch (after all Puck is a tumbler) thwarted by the pain. Imagine a dark stage, the lights of the dressing room table the only source of brightness until Puck enters in costume. Perhaps before it begins totally, he enters the stage and stares at himself, developing then into your sequence. You could have the ‘muffled voice’ from off-stage, maybe there’s the sounds of murmurs from somewhere at times, perhaps you could incorporate a series of doors opening and closing, that sort of thing.
I have this weird vision of the mirror exercise being used – as at first his reflection follows his movements but then takes on a life of its own. In the scene with Preston, could Puck play the doctor or the mother to emphasise the ‘doctored’ elements of the sequence. In fact, could identically fashioned actors play every character? Or could you design a stage so that it looked like Mrs McNeill and Preston are puppets in some way? I think there’s such a great amount of potential for this sort of thing. Of course, the change would be radical and whilst I think this story would be great in a theatrical rewrite, these comments are more ideas that I thought I’d share with you and can be taken with a pinch of salt or used as cramp fodder, whatever you will.
Final Comments and Suggestions
I really enjoyed reading this. I believe that it has a great amount of potential. I’d love to see what you could do with it on stage too. I think that because it’s primarily dialogue you need to work on the general syntax of your narrative sentences to make them stronger and more poignant. This is simple to do with more variation of your diction. I think your imagery is splendid and the repetition of tropes is well placed. I would encourage any development of the uncanny though and I think that you may want to think about the structure of your scenes to make them cohere more easily for the reader.
If you have any questions about anything I’ve said or if you want to correspond further, feel free to email me. I hope this review has been somewhat helpful and that nothing I’ve said has cause too much affront. My aim is always to be constructive and to encourage thought through the editing process.