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Turtlethumbs's picture

Born Again Packaging

By Turtlethumbs in Arrest Us

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Description

Mitch becomes temporarily paralyzed in a dumpster full of dead babies and sees the light. But this doesn't help him beat the charges against him for accidentally burning thirty people alive.

Comments

Hector Acosta's picture
Hector Acosta from Dallas is reading Fletch July 1, 2014 - 6:08am

Hey Max.


This was a tough one. I'll be honest, I'm not really certain that the conceit of the story- Mitch basically telling the court everything that happened- worked for me, but damn if there's not some kick ass and funny lines/moments through out the thing that made me see why you would go this way. Which is what ended up making give you the thumbs up at the end. It's a weird, unwieldy story, but it's also fun and entertaining, and that matters a lot.

So yeah, I was entertained through most of it. But there were also a few parts, especially early on that I wasn't with the story. I don't think your beginning is very eye catching, mainly because it's so much telling. Yes, the whole story just just a lot of telling, but I felt that as it continued, Mitch's voice became stronger, and you got better at walking that line between just telling what happened, and being able to paint a picture through Mitch's words.

I thought that this line:

After having been told by more than one public defender that I didn't stand a chance I decided to represent myself. If I was going to go back to prison I may as well do it on my own terms.

Was a bit awkward. It took me out of the moment because it's kinda of a simple, non descript line. It doesn't really jive with how the rest of the story is written, and feels like (sorry to keep harping on this) too much telling.

Early on, Mitch's dialogue felt too writerly and that you were trying a bit too hard. It's funny, because while I might not have a problem with a description like "Half pregnant clouds" (which is a great btw) whe dropped into a first person/third person story, I have a harder time believing it came out of somebody's mouth.

And the problem is that you have  a lot of lines like this, where I kept getting knocked out of the story due to my inability to fully buy that this is how someone would speak. I think that as the story continued and you were more focused on telling us how Mitch killed all those people, the little asides went away, and his way of speaking hit that right balanced, but you might want to make a second pass and cut extraneous pieces early on.

I think the climax of the story happens with this line:

“All of us are made up of the same raw material as God.”

It's a killer line, and it sort of ties everything that has happened or will happen really well. Unfortunately, the line shows up on page 5 and ends up being buried. The ending left me flat. The last bit in the court itself was a bit anticlimatic considering the story Mitch told, and then paragrahs that follow it are so different in tone and style from everything that came before it, that they seem out of place. You focus on Born Agan rather than Mitch, where I wanted more of the latter.

I would be really curious to see how this story would be like if reworked to first or third person, and you focusing on the event itself rather than a retelling of it. Otherwise, I really do think you have something here, just maybe trim some of the fat (as funny as it might be) to make it really pop.

Hope this helps.

Turtlethumbs's picture
Turtlethumbs July 1, 2014 - 6:26am

Thanks so much for your input, Hector!

Jay Parekh's picture
Jay Parekh is reading Fight Club July 2, 2014 - 9:40am

Hi Max,

As promised:

So let me first say that I really enjoyed your story - I have never read anything like it before. It's Ballsy and all the grossness and goryness but its balanced quite well with the dark humour and Mitch's character, which if you ask me is quite likeable. 

On the topic of Mitch, some of the lines he said just didnt sound like real conversation that would happen in front of me. I can see him writing it down in his journal, or in a narrative, but it was too clean to be coming out of his mouth, almost like a written speech that he was reading and saying aloud. Perhaps, if the dialog was editted so he spoke in smaller sentences, using simpler words and maybe even making mistakes and backtracking, jumping between events unwittingly etc.

(Spoiler)

Another thing I would have liked was to spend some more time seeing how Mitch felt about going back to prison for the rest of his life, how his time in prison earlier had affected him, and how he felt about being indirectly responsible for the death of 30 people. Also he seemed somewhat fanatical about the Born Again company by the end. Was this on purpose? Also when he said that the business being run from the inside, I interpretted that he'd probably met the person running the company in prison, but I wanted to know more about this. Perhaps some more details could be added?

(/Spoiler)

All in all, I am glad I read your story Max, and I must say you definitely pushed the boundaries of dark humour and succeeded!! 

Turtlethumbs's picture
Turtlethumbs July 3, 2014 - 7:58am

Both you and Hector have now said that writerly-ness is a bit too pronounced, and I think I should work on it. Although Aud below has said they enjoyed it. I love getting all these responses to let it all float around my head to decide how I might edit and refine later. Thanks Jay!

Aud Fontaine's picture
Aud Fontaine from the mountains is reading Catch-22. Since like, always. July 2, 2014 - 10:31pm

Max,

This story was bizarre, disturbing and totally and utterly fantastic. I can understand where people are coming from with the whole Mitch sounding too writerly thing but frankly I think it adds to the story. I've met some people in my life who really do talk like that. Not exactly obviously, but who speak overly formally and poetically just because they're either that pretentious or that weird. I have a feeling Mitch is more of the latter where so many things have gone wrong in his brain that his stlye of speaking has crossed the line from just formal and removed to completely fantastic and perpetually out of place. I think it really helped cement his status as outsider, borderline psycho and general twisted fuck. The one thing that didn't work for me was actually when you broke from Mitch's retelling of the events and described people's reactions. Maybe I'm just too desensitized but I couldn't really buy into people puking into their laps and what not, especially since it was already pretty obvious what Mitch had been rolling around in. I think if you cut that part but left the shoe throwing, things would go much more smoothly. The shoe thing conveys enough human disgust without going over the top. Other than that, I have no qualms with this whatsoever. It was a really grotessque blast. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Kudos.

Aud. 

Turtlethumbs's picture
Turtlethumbs July 3, 2014 - 7:56am

Thanks, Aud. I was definitely going for bizarre and disturbing (and fantastic is such a great compliment - thanks!). However, I didn't really want Mitch to seem like a twisted fuck. Just a regular guy doing what he had to do to get the job done. I suppose that could be interpreted as twisted, given that he seems to have no problem with doing what he's doing. But I just wanted to make him seem more oblivious to the ethical questionable-ness of his actions than malicious or sociopathic.

Funny what you say about the vomiting. One friends of mine said if I keep anything, keep that. Glad you liked the shoe bit though. I'm currently trying to find your submission to read and review but am having trouble finding it  -sent you a PM.

Liam Hogan's picture
Liam Hogan from Earth is reading Hugo Nominations July 3, 2014 - 8:53am

Hi Max,

My immediate thought is - this doesn't work. But I kept going, as you're obviously enjoying the writing of it, and when that shows you cut it a bit of slack. The set up is the accused defending himself in a way no lawyer would ever do, seemingly the only person to testify. This suits the interrogation phase of an investigation so damned well that the reason I'm thinking it isn't working is because I want this to be across a table from a cop (or two, if you want to play good cop/bad cop on it...). This would justify the less formal approach.

Still, I assumed you had a good reason, so I read on...

The fact they break into the dumpster - is that adequately explained? Would an ex-con (possibly on parole) break the law as part of his job? And of course, unless you're going to plaster the dumpster with "medical waste, for incineration" it's not going to work because aborted babies don't end up in landfill...

As this is a criminal case at this point, the flammibility of the medical waste will be understood (surgical spirits might make for a good joke...) And no one bag is likely to kill 30 people, without burning down the whole church that he is in.

I think the final in prison coda is a little weak. Think of some other ending?

And does the fact our narrator is born again in the dumpster relevant? It doesn't seem so...

You might - now I quickly scan upwards - say why Mitch likes his words so, (did he read a lot when in prison? was his previous crime somehow related?).

And how does the death of his co-worker affect him (whistling in court? I don't think this guy is right in the head, but you can explain both if you need to by referencing back to his recent born again ("I'd mourn, but I knew he was off to a better place" and "I've lived once, whatever this second life brings, is a bonus").

The other thing you need to do is get more observed emotion into the telling - it's very much a dialogue piece at the moment, I want Mr Applebaum mopping his brow when he says "I'm finished here" and I want some more on what Mitch is feeling as he relates his tale.

Anyway, it was at least an entertaining read, if highly implausibe...

Liam

Turtlethumbs's picture
Turtlethumbs July 4, 2014 - 12:48pm

Extremely valuable crit, Liam. Another implausible factor is that aborted fetuses could never be made into compostable packaging. Real compostable packaging companies use pulp from processed plant materials because of the fiber content. The flesh of mammals could never actually be used in this way.

Been toying around with a stronger ending, and one with a huge twist. Maybe Mitch is a delusional environmentalist with a mental illness who thinks he's bringing medical waste to a processing plant to be converted into something else, but he's just a homeless guy dumpster diving for food or something. Or maybe he's crafted this elaborate story to entertain somebody he knows, and he's deliberately pulling somebody's leg. That would fix the implausibility problem for sure.

Thanks for getting me to think about the problems of implausibility.

David James Keaton's picture
David James Keaton from "the water" is reading Kill Kill Faster Faster by Joel Rose July 3, 2014 - 4:47pm

So, clicking around the random button, I found your tale, and the description intrigued me for obvious reasons. And I gotta say, I got what I came for. I've dabbled in the dumpster baby genre myself (is that a genre? damn well should be), and this was some vile but entertaining stuff. And I normally detest courtroom scenes of any kind, but that's probably because there aren't enough dumpster baby play-by-plays on the witness stands. As far as the "born again" gag, I laughed. I think the repetition of him saying "raw material" got kind of tiresome, but I honestly don't know how you'd fix that since you want to have the zinger of a surprise when you reveal what the raw material is. Maybe a couple fewer uses of the phrase? Either way, my only real gripe was the epilogue, which took me out of the urgency of this guy's gooey but hideously captivating story. You could probably mix that epilogue information into the confession, having him consider the after while staying in the now? But ultimately it's your story. Like I said, I enjoy this kind of bold subject matter in a story. Dead babies for President. So here's a dead baby thumb's up.

Turtlethumbs's picture
Turtlethumbs July 4, 2014 - 12:56pm

Thanks, David. I'm reworking it and trying to reduce the "raw material" references. Also working on a better ending, just toying around with ideas in my head. Thanks for the feedback.

EdVaughn's picture
EdVaughn from Louisville, Ky is reading a whole bunch of different stuff July 4, 2014 - 3:16pm

Hey Max,

Ok so this didn't really work for me. It's a great idea and I love the almost Bizarro take you have but I think it was a little over-written. And I'll add my voice that it's a lot of telling. Don't get me wrong it has a crap ton of potential for sure. The story is almost entirely dialogue. I think you should go back and delete most of your qoutation marks. Make the parts where he's telling the events the narration. It sounds weird because the main character is actually saying these things, rather than the reader being told what is happening by a narrator, if you know what I mean. There are also times where you say baby eater or eating babies or just something about baby eating way too many times. Also "raw materials". It's used constantly. Just try to mix it up more or write the sentence differently. As far as the ending goes I didn't get the prosecuters arguement as to why he killed all those people. What makes him so sure the main character did it? Maybe I missed something. The whole story is the main character giving his side but I don't think we hear the other side of the story. The thirty people go up in flames but doesn't he say that the priest set them on fire. Sure he drops the "raw materials" on them but that won't straight up kill them. The fire is what kills them. If he has an alibi then the court has to consider it right? Couldn't it be ruled an accident? But, the judge says he's guilty. The end. (keep in mind I have zero legal knowledge).  I don't know, just kind of thinking out loud I guess. Well, I hope this wasn't too harsh or anything and gives you some ideas. Cheers. 

Wonder Woman's picture
Wonder Woman from RI is reading 20th Century Ghosts July 6, 2014 - 8:32am

Firstly, I was eating oatmeal while reading your story. I powered through the whole bowl, though, so yey for my constitution! ;)

Here there be spoilers... 

I get what others are saying about Mitch's dialogue because when I started reading I couldn't imagine a character saying these things. However, when he admits he's wordy, and after you realize he's been "born again," it made me feel as though his flowery speech is more acceptable. He's gotten quirky and maybe down right nutty after his experience. He mentions that employees are trained and the info "gets in your head," so I feel like his use of the phrase "raw materials" also makes sense because he's practically brainwashed and fanatical about the company he works/worked for. I guess I didn't have as big an issue with these things since Mitch, as Dr. Peter Venkman might say, has gone bye bye. That's how I took it, anyhow. 

Yes, there is some inplausibilty there with the dead baby composting and the flammability of one bag of waste, but the dark humor hooked me and I could overlook it somewhat and I did give it a thumbs up. I do think some reworking would help, though...maybe he is delusional. I think it could make it even more entertaining if that were the case. Looking forward to seeing where you go with your editing!

Jonathan Riley's picture
Jonathan Riley from Memphis, Tennessee is reading Flashover by Gordon Highland July 7, 2014 - 5:11pm

Max,

I kind of read it as he was dilusional anyway. It had that whole unreliable narator vibe for me and I dug it. I mean, how many people on the stand in this type of situation are really going to tell the truth? So I assumed he was lying, at first. Then I just assumed he wasn't lying and that he believed what he said.

In real life there wouldn't be "raw material" in that dumpster, unless perhaps the clinic was cutting corners. I feel like rather than previously in prison, maybe Mitch was previously in a mental institution, where he himself gave birth to Born Again Packaging.

I liked the church scene. It varried quite a bit from what I expected to happen. I expected that the last bag he grabbed out of the dumpster, was a bomb placed there by a pro-life activist, which is ironic because when the bomb would actually go off in a church. Or I expected that to be Mitch's story, and I still might had suspected that the bomb came from Mitch himself. The ironic bomb could had been even more humorous and maybe more believable than human compost burning thirty people in a church without killing Mitch, but that's good too and it also contributes to the fact that we as an audience can't really believe anything Mitch tells us. I like that he's gung ho about Born Again. It ties into your themes great. He really believes he's doing a service. Like he's a Karma King or something. Making up for the dead babys by providing biodegradable material for a greener earth. Pretty cool.

Anyway,

I dug this story. I do say work on the dialouge at the begining a bit too. And the ending could be tighter. All that has been mentioned already. Good luck with this one. Thanks for sharing.

--JR--

Joe P's picture
Joe P from Brainerd, MN is reading Pet Sematary July 8, 2014 - 3:49am

Max,
This was a lot of fun.
It did start off a little slow. As the prosecutor was demanding that Mitch get on with it, I was starting to share his opinion. But your narrator has a certain style about him and it adds to the story and you pull it off. Still, I think it would help to trim down whatever is unnecessary in his dialogue for the first third of the piece.
I enjoyed the repetition of him using the term "raw material." You could tell he'd bought into the euphemism so he didn't have to think about the "raw material" as dead babies.
As a whole, the story does require some suspension of disbelief. (flammable babies, crowds ready and willing to chance this guy through town, a company that could make money by recycling dead babies...) But it's fiction. If Optimus Prime can ride a robot dinosaur through NYC, than surely Born Again Packaging can make dental floss out of biological waste.
Your outro about Born Again falls a bit flat. Maybe introduce that at the beginning of the story that this is a successful multinational cooperation with Blue Chip stock, yada yada yada, but they still won't provide Mitch with a lawyer. Something to that effect. Then that leaves your ending open for one last sucker punch of disgust. Maybe the details about the dental floss or something just as disturbing.
That's about it from me. Thanks for the fun read!

Joe P's picture
Joe P from Brainerd, MN is reading Pet Sematary July 8, 2014 - 3:22pm

Your story had me thinking trough the day. Mitch's re-birth in the dumpster is crucial to the theme of this story. But I think he needs to undergo some deep personal change while in the dumpster. He needs to come out of the dumpster a new man. Maybe that is exposed during his trail or in the church... I don't know. But I do think his dumpster re-birth is key.

BTW I know I've read a good story when I'm still thinking about it a full work day later. Nice job keeping my mind spinning!

Turtlethumbs's picture
Turtlethumbs July 8, 2014 - 11:23pm

great idea, making the born again experience actually meaningful. 

big_old_dave's picture
big_old_dave from Watford, about 20 miles outside London, Uk July 8, 2014 - 12:15pm

Hi Max, 

Returning the favour of the review. 

Wow, I'm not going to lie I had to really hard time getting into this one. Maybe this is down to the way the main character here is speaking and over describing everything which does get picked up in the story, but man, it's hard going. 

Now as it went along and they broke into the dumpster and they start to go through getting trapped and it's contense that's when I really wasn't sure myself what was goin on here. As abortion remains go for cremation I wasn''t sure if this was down as a nutty unreliable narator or a straight up or satire on the child abortion issue, it became a bit more clear later on that it was but it did make me stop and break the flow of the story to think about it. 

Now for the shock of the bags contense as the prosecution goes first in a court of law then this would have already been mentioned to the court as they would have had the main characters story to go on and the police had to follow this up afterward. Now for the story this could mean that the crowd are right on his back from the off and also could be a way of drawing in the reader better at the start, If the crowd are going mental even before he's spoken that would have really made me press on more.  

Which goes for the born again bit. Made no sense to be in the story for me. Is that him just trying to get the favour of the jury? Confusing. 

Why does he grab a bag for processing after his partner is killed, I'd be calling an ambulance or cops possibly? 

The last paragargh doesn't really feel a satisifying way to end it out on, I would just cut it and end it with him going back to jail. and the shit storm that comes when everyone fings out what his old company does, I know your working on this looking at your comments so nay worries. 

The most orginal story I've read so far in the comp. Keep it up mate, hope this helps. 

Dave.

Turtlethumbs's picture
Turtlethumbs July 8, 2014 - 11:31pm

The born again bit was simply for humor. A guy working for a compostable packaging company with mostly Christian food service clients called Born Again Packaging (think, dead babies are "born again" by being made into compostable packages and dental floss and things), dies in a dumpster full of the dead babies he has gone out to retrieve as the raw material making up the compostable packages, and is "born again" in the dumpster. Does it serve any serious function in terms of character development or even resolving some sort of plot conflict? No. Is it plausible? No. Is it outrageous and horrible and hiliarious? In my mind, yes. That's really the only reason I threw it in there. I realize now from all these comments that you don't just "throw stuff in there," I guess. I'm learning that readers expect things to come together and make more sense than this, so thanks for getting me to think more critically about what I write.

YouAreNotASlave's picture
YouAreNotASlave from Birmingham United Kingdom July 10, 2014 - 3:01pm

I liked this. There were a few problems in terms of believability which I'll get to later, but for the most part I enjoyed the humour and shock-factor so much that it suspended my disbelief. The narrator is a nice mixture of insolent and humble, I feel like it works. I didn't really feel Clyde come alive, but Applebaum was a nice comic foil -- the 'straight man' to the narrator -- and the courtroom set up enabled this well. 

Re: Believability, as I said I liked how over the top the story was, but the whole bits of baby I felt was a little contrived to add to the shock factor. Like fair enough there is discharge and waste in abortions but I highly doubt you'd see any legs or anything; abortions to my knowledge (though I'm no expert) generally occur when the embryos are fucking tiny; I doubt limbs would be discernable from just a general sludginess. But that's the only thing that irked me, I was happy to suspend disbelief that Born Again Packaging manufactures abortion discharge into dental floss, so I guess that shows some good writing.

Secondly, I just don't know if the feminist protestors would be wanting to kill Clyde (correct me if I'm wrong on that point) and the narrator alongside the anti-abortion ones. Their (our, I suppose) whole schtick is that abortions and aborted foetuses shouldn't be stigmatised and abortions are an issue of choice. 

But these things aside, a nice story. I liked the courtroom structure and the main character was sympathetic depsite the high level fucked up crime the story centres around. Thumbs up from me!

Tom

Damon Lytton's picture
Damon Lytton from Augusta, Kansas is reading Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow July 11, 2014 - 7:32pm

Max,

I love that this page has so many reviews talking about reality and this story in the same sentence.  In a competition full of gritty, noir pieces firmly set in reality (which I'm also guilty of writing), it's nice every once in a while to just say fuck it and dip into absurdism.  I don't care that none of this makes sense in the real world.  I don't care that Mitch is speaking in a way that most people don't speak.  I don't care that this monologue probably wouldn't fly in an actual court of law.  This story made me laugh.

Is it perfect.  No.  You could trim some off the end and maybe streamline the beginning a bit (e.g. pull back a little on Mr. Applebaum reigning Mitch in).  But I think outside of a crime-fiction contest, this story would be given a little more leeway.  If you wanna throw in a dumpster-baby vision.  Throw it the hell in there.  I'm a firm believer that not every moment has to push the story forward in comedy.

I loved it Max.  I still haven't figured out how to do comedy in prose, so my hat's off to you.

mattymillard's picture
mattymillard from Wolverhampton, England is reading Curse of the Wolf Girl - Martin Millar July 13, 2014 - 7:49am

Hi Max,

I apologise but I couldn't quite get into this one, and for two main reasons.

The first one was that the main character was too wordy. I get that this was to try and make him likeable and interesting (I guess a charming cockiness is the aim to work with the born-again speech), but where the prosecutor and judge were getting frustrated with him not getting to the point I found that I was the same. I also thought the judge told him off for it too many times, and that many of his conversational tangents were irrelevent to the story - not just the case (incidentally, surely if his job is emptying dumpsters, he'd know whether it was a roof or door!)

The second was that I just didn't get the content. It was gross, and made me dislike the characters who were recycling the babies - so that was good in terms of the writing - but I just couldn't believe that this could ever happen. People finding abortion waste in a dumpster, and carrying it around in a bin bag just wasn't realistic for me.

Oh a more positive note though - in the second half - once the details of what the main character had been doing came out, I thought that the writing improved drastically. He was more interesting, seemed to have found his voice and the interactions of others in the courtroom were good.

Sorry that I didn't quite get it - but I hope that my feedback is useful. Feel free to message me if you have any further questions!

Matty

Adam Jenkins's picture
Adam Jenkins from Bracknell, England is reading RCX Magazine (Issue 1 coming soon) July 17, 2014 - 12:05am

I agree with Damon in that it is utterly pointless to discuss reality in relation to this story. It’s just that kind of story where reality should be left out of the equation all together. This will stand or fall on its absurdist humour and the reaction of each individual reader to that.

Personally, it didn’t work for me. I know there will plenty for whom it does work, and I can see that reflected in the comments, but I’m just not one of those people. Mostly it’s just a personal taste thing, but I’ll try and give you particulars.

The start needs a little more love. At the moment it sets the scene, but doesn’t really grab the interest. Partially that’s down to the telling over showing, and partially it’s because of little things like the prosecutor speaking directly to Mitch, instead of just objecting. It’s not until page three that we learn the truth about the ‘raw materials’, and so the absurdist nature of your tale hasn’t come across in that opening. That means every time you steer away from reality, it’s going to be very noticeable. The telling becomes less of an issue as we go through, but at the start, it really detracts from the story. Have you thought about splitting the story? Start in the court, and then switch to showing what happened, switching back as you need?

The twist is clever, working off that play on words of Born Again Packaging. It’s distasteful of course, but it’s meant to be. I’m not sure it’s puking-in-the-aisles distasteful, but certainly I can buy the anger aimed at Mitch. Setting this during the pro-life protests is a good idea, and adds nice little layer to this, as is killing them all in a church. I won’t deny there are some neat little touches here and there.

I think you go for shock value here, and it’s a valid choice; it’s just not going to work for everybody. I genuinely wish you all the best with it though.

Seb's picture
Seb from Thanet, Kent, UK July 17, 2014 - 12:27am

Well I liked it. It was disgusting, but didn't feel like you were desperately trying to shock the reader, which is a good thing. Nice.

Karin Hogan's picture
Karin Hogan July 17, 2014 - 4:30am

I'm sorry, this really didn't work for me. The stilted courtroom dialog, the absurdist plot, the MC's lack of coherent motive. If you're going to pick on the anti-abortionists, give them at least one strong voice  - not the mob you have here. If you're going to pick on the church/afterlife, give the priest a moment of compassion, make that afterlife have an impact. And if you're going to write an absurdist piece, at least make its logic internally consistant. 

Plus, this is a crime contest. Could your narrator not at least THROW the bag at his pursuers, not knowing what the consequence would be? That way, at least the court case - your chosen setting  - would make sense - he did afterall kill them, albeit accidentally.

 

Turtlethumbs's picture
Turtlethumbs August 5, 2014 - 5:10pm

Thanks Karin. For the record, I thought I was poking fun at both pro- and anti- abortion protesters. Not sure how I was "picking on" the church or the afterlife though. I read "picking on" as "bullying," almost. Different from "having fun with the idea of" which is more what I thought I was doing. But my intentions probably didn't come through perfectly here.

As for the intentions of the alleged murderer, I doubt it matters if he threw it or not. It's a crime to drive your car into a child and kill it regardless of intentions. I would imagine the same logic goes for killing 30 people in a church with a bag of flammable aborted fetuses.

kevymetal's picture
kevymetal from Halifax, NS July 17, 2014 - 11:42am

"The red faced judge had become goulishly white. Her mouth agape, she stared at me. Mr. Applebaum made a loud swallowing noise and said quietly, what did the dead baby that became an angel say to you"

and

"Is that a baby leg hanging out of your mouth?"

and

"When you say it like that it sounds pretty bad."

Genius, genius, genius. Comedic gold.

I give this two prenatal fists up.

Cmangano's picture
Cmangano from Maine July 20, 2014 - 9:01pm

You have a lot of comments here already, so I'll just share my thoughts, and hope that they helpful. There are some really funny bits in this, I especially like the "crisp and shiny" APPLEbaum. I understand that you were trying to create light banter and a potentially unreliable main character while  Mr. Applebaum interrogated Mitch, but it slowed me down a lot. Constantly bringing up irrelevant facts and being shot down is playful for a bit, but it becomes distracting after a  while. I would also have liked to have some more focus on the actual crime.

This is a fun read so I won't harp on technicalities like a fully developed baby's foot being tossed in a trash bag with a shrug, but I do think that people accusing Mitch of cannibalism is a little unbelievable, after all he does explain that the sludge gets in his mouth by accident. I'm not sure if this is actually a point, since it's obviously done for comedic effect.

The only other thing I can think of is, possibly developing Mitch's past so we know what kind of guy he is and have some context. You mention that he's been in jail, maybe go a little deeper into that; you can still keep his character ambiguous if that's your intention.

Overall, you did a good job writing the story, whether it's a crime story or not, the critics can decide. Dead baby humor seems to really work for some people and personally offend others. I'm glad you didn't have any P.C. qualms about developing the story you wanted to write. Kudos. I know that I have a few friends that would absolutely adore this story

Josh Zancan's picture
Josh Zancan from Crofton, MD is reading East of Eden by John Steinbeck July 21, 2014 - 10:01am

Max,

I was totally wrapped up in this.  Strong character voice, a really creative concept, and I was totally grossed out but I couldn't look away.  And on top of that, it was funny.  So in regards to the courtroom testimony and the story being told, I was all about it.  Excellent.

A few minor things: It started a little slow (I echo the "writerly" sentiments from earlier), and though I liked that you included courtroom reactions, the reactions you chose sort of took me out of it.  The thing that makes the story work the most for me is the juxtaposition: it's totally absurd, but is presented subtly.  It's crazy and gross and horrifying, but this guy is just casually telling it as if it were any old thing.  But when people in the courtroom react, it becomes almost slapstick and breaks the tone and flow.  I wouldn't recommend removing it completely, just toning it down.  Maybe have the guy say "Cannibal" to himself, but loudly enough so it can be heard around him, rather than straight yelling it.  Or jurors gasping/groaning and/or putting their mouths over their hands to keep themselves from vomiting, rather than a wave of puke.  Even with the absurdist approach, that was a bit much and not totally believable - court would be adjourned if the jury started getting sick.  I feel like you went full-on spoof-movie with that one.  The shoe thing and how it played out was more believable, so maybe that would be fine to leave in.

The bigger issue I had:  the ending.  1) I don't get why he was found guilty.  Maybe if he was going back to jail for stealing stuff, but what evidence did they find that he was guilty of killing the people in the church?  We saw his testimony, then the lawyer said he was going back to jail, and he went to jail.  What about the jury?  Did they deliberate?  Maybe you could use the jury's disgust to your advantage in judging him harshly?  By the character's account, it seemed like a freak thing.  2)  I didn't feel like it really, fully concluded.  You have two stories working at once here: the raw material/fire story, and the courtroom story.  You finished one, and it was awesome, but when it came time to wrap up the courtroom scene, it was just "okay, thanks for your side of it, you're going to jail now, bye."  No closure there.  3) The postscript wasn't that effective for me.  I feel like - and maybe I'm wrong and missing the point - that this was supposed to be the last little punch, the final Ha! moment, but during the testimony, there wasn't much focus on the products Born Again made.  It was mentioned, but only in passing.  So I wasn't invested in that aspect of it to really react.  To be fair, sometimes endings like that do come as the knockout punch off the misdirection, but if that's what you were going for, it was a punch that fell flat.*  On one hand, I'd say include more about the products themselves in the testimony, but on the other hand, the testimony is so good, I'm hestiant to recommend changing anything about it.

Overall, even with the issues I mentioned, I had a blast reading this.  I think that's because you wisely played to the story's strength, and dedicated pretty much the entire thing to itsa best part: the testimony about the dumpster and the fire.  That's really where the heart of the story lies.  Regarding the other parts, I would say either put a little more stock in them and round them out better in a more fully realized version, or find a different vehicle through which to tell the dumpster/fire story.  I do like the interrogative set up with the lawyer, and somebody above me mentioned a police interrogation could replicate that.  I'm not saying that is definitely the way to go, but it might be worth experimenting with.  My gut, though, is telling me you'd be better off working with what you have here in the courtroom. Plus, I really like the Applebaum character.

Thanks for the read.  Thumbs up!

Josh

*I'm a little ashamed of myself for that play on words.

Turtlethumbs's picture
Turtlethumbs July 21, 2014 - 11:46am

Wow Josh, thanks for such a thorough response. Yeah the ending was literally me realizing the story was due in two days and drinking a bunch of caffeine to force it to end so I could submit. So clearly the ending doesn't work... there's a lot I plan on (hopefully plan on) changing when the contest is over. I want to add up all the issues people have with it and rework it and probably just make him turn out to be mentally ill and/or homeless and/or telling the story to a rat in a landfill or to a person in jail or a mental hospital, so that it all becomes more believable... I think I blabbed about this prospective plan in a comment above somewhere (so many comments now jeez).

Glad you could get wrapped up in it. People are so mixed on this story I really have no idea what people are going to think one read/review to the next.