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EC Crouse's picture

The Sum of His Parts

By EC Crouse in Arrest Us

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A woman scorned, abused, maligned gets even.  And it's messy.  Oh, yes, it's messy.


Neil Krolicki's picture
Neil Krolicki from Denver is reading What Suzy & Chuck Tell Him To June 29, 2014 - 5:58am

Hi E.C.,

Great opening line and accompanying image - love you the way you set the hook right off. You might even go a step further and throw in some juicy details to really get our imaginations going.  “The first thing I cut off was his hand. Dropping the machete blade into between the softer joints of the wrist, pushing it though the cords of tendons and muscle.” I think you miss an opportunity to hold the tension you instantly built by dropping into flashback so quickly. My attention was set and I wanted to know what was happening ‘now’, what was happening ‘next’.  You might consider staying in present tense for at least a paragraph or two longer. 

I did find myself wondering why the husband had a machete around the house in the first place? It’s not that you need to say right THEN why it’s in the closet, but maybe work in a line later that he used it to trim back the ivy along the house or whatever.

Describing the husband’s attack on the narrator came across very matter-of-fact and didn’t convey the full brutality of his abuse of her, in my opinion. “He struck me then…I knew it would be bad this time… a trip to the hospital” is doing a lot of ‘telling’ where ‘showing’ would do a lot more for you, like “His knuckles drove into the meat under my left eye and all I could see were sparks, the vessels around my pupil exploding” (quicky example). Chuck Palahniuk has this advice that writing action scenes should feel like a sports broadcast, chock full of verbs ‘kicking, scraping, gnashing’ - you might consider introducing more of these in the re-write.

Some physical traits about the narrator would be nice to throw in so I can picture her a little bit - not an exhaustive description about her hair/weight/clothes but maybe hint at her more through an action, like maybe as she’s being assaulted: “His fingers grab my ash black hair at the roots, dragging my slender frame across the floor”.  Just a little something to give me a nugget to build from in my head and also reinforce your theme regarding his violent behavior. You did a good job introducing the trait of his hair with this method later on, when she’s boxing him up.

The ‘I knew it’ chorus is used too much in the graph that starts with ‘But I was no match for him.’ - I get what you’re after with the recurring thought, but if it were me I’d condense it down to three uses at most in that paragraph.

A little further down you’ve got ‘glossy fountain’ within a couple sentences of ‘eyes would go glossy’ - might swap one out for a different adjective.

Personally I don’t think a kitchen butcher knife would dispatch hands & appendages as easily as you suggest. If you’ve ever watched a mob movie like ‘Goodfellas’ or ‘Donnie Brasco’, you’ve seen grown men have to resort to hacksaws and axes to dismantle a body.  It’s pretty tough work, so the idea that your narrator would just chop right along throws me out of the story. Since you’ve already set it up, you could condense the scene by just having her go back to the machete.  That’d be a much more effective tool for the job - plus you’ve already said it’s sharpened.

Loved her describing her past punishments associated with the clothes she was taking off her dead husband, I could even go for more of that. “The cashmere socks I didn’t wash in cold water that got me a broken molar. The gaberdine slacks that weren’t properly pressed that earned me a bruised neck I had to coat with layers of cover-up makeup for days” Physical things that connect to her abuse makes it much more palpable to read so by the time you’re finished I’m saying “Yeah, chop that asshole’s head off!”.

The final eighth of the story took me aback, with her sitting on the beach and (if I’m reading it right) almost mournfully reminiscing about the husband she’s just violently hacked to death. If she was so completely resolved to murder him, so much so that she planned out all the places she’d leave his body parts, why the heck would she be the slightest bit mournful about the act? It seemed like you were setting that scene up to be a breath of new found freedom and that’s exactly what I would expect she’d feel - personally I’d continue on that note until the end and omit the sentimental interactions with his ‘ghost/spirit’.

Some terrific writing in here and outstanding use of imagery - I hope my humble opinions above can be of some use to you in a future rewrite.


EC Crouse's picture
EC Crouse from Seattle is reading the deep dark secrets of the interwebs July 3, 2014 - 6:26pm

Thanks for your comments, Neil.  And thanks especially for pointing out the second, awkward use of glossy.  I've edited that out and uploaded a new version.


Neil Krolicki's picture
Neil Krolicki from Denver is reading What Suzy & Chuck Tell Him To July 7, 2014 - 6:23am

Happy to help, Elizabeth - please give my story 'Poachers' a read when you have the time:



mattmyth's picture
mattmyth from Rotorua, New Zealand is reading Child of God by Cormack McCarthy June 30, 2014 - 1:28am

Description is very good, I could picture the violence as it happened.  I liked the plot, the distribution of body parts, it was gruesome.

The story is realistic in that while the majorityof domestic violence, murder involving relationships is carried out against woman, when a male is murdered it is most often a snap the like of which is described here.  What is missing in my opinion, is the sense of lonliness in the narrator.

To really bring this story to life, the total alienation from any any support networks- family, friends- needs to be brought out.  The narrator moved to the city- why?  What about her character led her to let herself be controlled?  Or respond with such violence?

The death and dismemberment are conclusions of abuse, but there is a disconnect between them.  Especially the carving up and distribution of the body.  It comes across as an act that was not pre-meditated but it must have been.  She would have cut up his body in her head every time he sold her, hit her, threatened her.

The associates- she knows where they are.  This tells me she must have some sort of acquantance with them, yet in the story they are are these shadowy figures her partner keeps her away from.

The story is good, but I would like to know more about the woman who tells it.  There is more to this character.

Hope this helps,




EC Crouse's picture
EC Crouse from Seattle is reading the deep dark secrets of the interwebs July 3, 2014 - 6:27pm

Thanks for your comments, Matt.  It's been a struggle to find the right balance between how much to reveal about the narrator and how much to leave unresolved/intriguing.  Appreciate your thoughts.


Hector Acosta's picture
Hector Acosta from Dallas is reading Fletch June 30, 2014 - 9:29am



I think there's some really good stuff in this piece- The first line is killer, and you do a good job of not shying away from the gore when it comes to the character cutting out the husband. I also enjoyed the last bit with her on the beach.

My main concern is that this doesn't really feel like a story as much as a scene. I know the word gets thrown around a lot when it comes to critiques, but the story felt really passive at times, and like a bunch of info dump. You have this eye catching opening line, but then you devote almost a full page to back story, while I personally just want to know what happens next. Not saying that all back story should be gone, but I would look over what you have and try to trim as much of it as possible. You want to keep the reader in the moment and not have them skimming through to get to the good stuff.

Which I felt happening alot as the story continued. The fight scene was good, and I liked that it was short as sometimes these type of things can stretch out for too long. But then the story comes to a halt as you tell us how she cut each part off, where I feel like this could be shortened down drastically. The same thing happens as she distributes the parts to different areas-why should I care what happens? There's no tension, no risk that she's going to get caught in anything.

There was a mention of someone in South Africa that could stop running now. I liked this, as there was an air of mystery to the statement, but I don't believe you ever expand on it, leaving me to wonder exactly what you meant.

Writing wise, I liked what you have on the page, and you have a knack for description and the kind of hurried madness someone in the character's position would be in. When you're first describing the man and how he cleans his machete, I would maybe dial it down just a bit, as I felt like it overstepped into parodying.

Sorry if this sound over critical or negative. I think the story has potential, it just needs a second pass. Hope that you can take something useful from this, and remember it's just one reader's opinion.


EC Crouse's picture
EC Crouse from Seattle is reading the deep dark secrets of the interwebs July 3, 2014 - 6:28pm

Thanks, Hector.  Interesting to hear your take on tone of the piece.


Seb's picture
Seb from Thanet, Kent, UK July 3, 2014 - 11:09am

I loved this. One of my favourites so far. Outstanding.

EC Crouse's picture
EC Crouse from Seattle is reading the deep dark secrets of the interwebs July 3, 2014 - 6:29pm

Thanks for the feedback, Seb!


sarahcg's picture
sarahcg July 7, 2014 - 9:26pm

Awesome revenge story! I could really see the scene and thought it was not overly gruesome. I would like to more a little bit more background on both characters. Good work!


smortz's picture
smortz from NY now live in SF is reading Choke, Joyce Carol Oats July 8, 2014 - 5:42pm

I'm new to this site and new to critiquing but this story was GREAT!!!

The opening grabbed me and the matter of fact manner of telling added to the suspense.

In paragraph 3 you write "cheap cheap" brass knob  Is this suppose to be one cheap?  Since you use a lot of repetion I wasn't sure. 

I was confused about the diamond miner.  Maybe more explanation could help. 

Perhaps a bit more physical description. 

All and all a Great story. 

Adam Jenkins's picture
Adam Jenkins from Bracknell, England is reading RCX Magazine (Issue 1 coming soon) July 10, 2014 - 8:12am

There is some good writing here. You book end the story with lines of perfection – both the first and last lines are great.

The story itself suffers a little bit from following a fairly well-trodden path. There are no surprises, and the little tension that you conjure up (when he’s fighting back), ends with that final machete blow which comes less than half way through the story. The little revelations of him selling her body are horrific and do add value, and I like that she goes around distributing his body parts. It is a satisfying revenge story.

There is a lot of repetition here which has a mixed success rate. I agree with Neil in that the ‘I knew’ section featured too much repetition, and a little editing here would improve the flow. This is the only section where it feels too much, and a little stodgy though. The only other snip that really sprang to mind is the last page with the duplicated line, “And I ran.” I honestly don’t think you need that duplication there.

Thumbs up from me, it doesn’t break new ground, but it’s an enjoyable read, clearly written, and there’s always something satisfying about seeing someone get their revenge.

YouAreNotASlave's picture
YouAreNotASlave from Birmingham United Kingdom July 11, 2014 - 8:25am

Enjoyed reading this a lot. Very deep and personal and establishes a strong voice throughout. Ending and the beginning were very strong, and I'm not sure the lack of tension bothered me so much; I liked that the story sorta just simmered with action, the constant dipping back into the narrators memories of her husband was very well done -- although there were certain things like the Diamond mine in South Africa, and the forced sex work which I felt might have benefitted from flashbacks or more elaboration (though this can be hard to do and I liked the parsed style too). But yeah overall brilliant use of memory and pacing, thumbs up.

Critique wise there's not much that hasn't been covered -- I felt the I knew / I didn't know section dragged a little in terms of repetition. And I could take or leave the final scene with the husband's ghost at the end. But then it didn't bother me that she seemed regretful; I think you did well to show the contradictory nature of abuse in a very sensitive manner and it made sense, and was quite harrowing, to see the character still acting in pity and mournfulness even after she'd murdered him. It was nicely complex. 

Thanks for the read!