THE DYBBUK ROSEBUSH • by Sarah Crysl Akhtar

Simet felt him coming closer every day. Dreams troubled her; they seemed like messages sent ahead by Moritz from every dark waystation on his infernal high road towards home.

He had broken himself on the wheels of vanity and falsehood, and then cracked his skull open on the cobblestones of another town, after a night of drinking.

“This is what I am!” he’d shouted whenever she urged prudence in anything; “this is who you married!”

“It was the better man within you,” she said, “that I saw and still see.”

Her love withstood even the blast-furnace of his resentful fury. But when he profaned their home —

“You put me out, like a dog?” he’d shouted, incredulous. “Bitch that you are, what surprise in it?”

Well, said some — now he’s saved you a lifetime of grief by dying. You were foolish to choose him —

“The instrument by which God gave me the treasure of my life,” said Simet, “should I regret that?”  And she looked at the little boy who made her heart whole.

Well, said some, the house and the little shop were hers outright; many would value such a widow and kindly accept her child.

“God knows better,” said Simet, when urged to remarry; “all is as He wills.”

She had charmed hands; even those who thought her too much of her own mind conceded that her pastry was delectable. A pleasure merely to pass her doorstep when something was fresh from the oven.

A girl helped mind the child, a boy helped with the shop — life certainly goes on, most said.

***

First came the starling. Bent-winged, lame-footed, it blew against the window in the last shudder of a storm.

“Ah, poor thing, poor thing!” Simet said, picking it up. She smoothed honey on its blistered foot and devised a tiny bandage; bound up its wing, and put it in a box with a scattering of millet seeds and a saucer of water.

Its eyes brightened.

The little maid called to Simet from the kitchen, summoning her to approve the child’s porridge.

The starling grew agitated; its black eyes burned; it overturned its water and cried out harshly.

Simet looked at it carefully. Those eyes!

“Take this,” she said to the little maid, “to Hirsch the cobbler. He’s skilled with such things, and may like its company at his bench.”

So the starling was not allowed to stay.

“It died,” Hirsch said, a week later; “it showed no interest in life.”

Then came the carp. Simet checked the bucket when the boy returned from the fishmonger — and even for a carp, it had a wild eye. It smacked its tail eagerly against the wood as though it could hardly wait to be eaten.

“I’ve not yet given in charity this week,” said Simet; “and this is too much for us. Take it to Reb Yoishe’s widow, that she and her children may have a good Shabbos, and then bring me a smaller one.”

Reb Yoishe’s widow was originally from Kiev and put pepper in her gefilte fish. Anything troubling that carp, she would surely sweat out of it.

The spider had no chance at all.

“Moritz, how far will you degrade yourself?” asked Simet, finding it in the midst of its handiwork. “Such a web not even an infant would spin.”

The creature glared at her with all its eight angry eyes and she looked sternly back.

“Has death taught you nothing? Face yourself, and the Almighty, and then may you rest in peace!” She dropped it out the window, and a sparrow caught it.

And for a time it seemed — well, thought Simet, relieved — wherever Moritz is, at least he isn’t here.

***

Then spring came — when sleeping things wake up. Simet always found solace in her garden.

But this year her rosebush looked surly, as though it too had slept poorly.

***

Inside, all was quiet. The child and the little maid slept contentedly after the Shabbos meal.

Simet took her ease in the garden, on the bench under the cherry tree.

Nearly everything was in bloom. The little hedgehog who lived beneath a cracked flowerpot led her children out to bask in the sun.

This, thought Simet, must be the fragrance of the world to come.

The rosebush shook angrily. It had begun to rend its own leaves.

Simet’s heart ached with pity.

“To torment a rosebush, Moritz! Even death has not moderated you!”

If Moritz continues in this direction, thought Simet, he will end by inhabiting a rock.

And may he be stuck in one, she thought, for all eternity

Then she felt ashamed.

Does my son deserve a father, she asked herself, whose soul might reside in a stone?

“Truly, Moritz,” said Simet, “you have made yourself ridiculous. How many times can you choose badly?”

***

Baking at this hour? Simet kneaded dough with righteous intention and made four tiny loaves, inscribed with letters of holiness. She buried them under the rosebush, in the first glimmering light from the new moon.

The perfume of fresh bread entered the neighbors’ dreams and made their stomachs rumble. They tossed yearningly on their pillows all night, but woke entirely satisfied in the morning…

***

“Such a lovely garden!” said Reb Yoishe’s widow, Manya.

She and her children had been invited for the midday meal on Shabbos. It is a good thing for women to hearten and befriend each other.

“It gives me heart’s ease,” said Simet; “I felt it would do the same for you.”

“The rosebush especially,” said Manya, bending to breathe in its fragrance, “what is your secret for such beautiful flowers?”

“You’d never believe how much trouble it gave me,” said Simet; “I was doubtful I could save it.  But I applied a little yeast, which went straight to the root of the problem.”


Sarah Crysl Akhtar’s shtetl forebears gifted her with the genes that impel her to make much from little. So of course she writes flash fiction, cultivates orchards on her windowsill and bakes fabulous shortbread. Her son gives her what’s immeasurable — the best of all possible worlds. (Less miraculous fruit of her labors has appeared on 365tomorrows, Flash Fiction Online and Perihelion SF Magazine; her posts on the craft of writing keep materializing on Flash Fiction Chronicles.)


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  • I like the way this story is written. I like “He had broken himself on the wheels of vanity and falsehood” and the way the characters are presented to the reader.

    • Edward Beach

      I liked the story as a whole, but that line you just quoted, Derek… I would never put something like that so close to the start of a story. I mean, yeah I get the reference to the Buddhist Wheel of enlightenment, and how that relates to the issues of falsehood and reincarnation that guide the story along, but that sentence is not just a mouthful, it’s an attention killer.

      As I said, I liked Sarah’s story as a whole. I just think she needs to build up slowly to that kind of sentence so the reader is already familiar with the references.

      • MPmcgurty

        Hi, Edward. It seems to me that this is another huge challenge in flash fiction. Although I must have learned about the wheel in a college theology class, it never crossed my mind when I read this. A longer piece might have afforded me an aha moment. Now I feel very unenlightened. 😉

      • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

        Thought of it more in relation to the Inquisition, rather than Buddhist karma–that Moritz had destroyed himself.

        • Edward Beach

          Who was it who said the author has no monopoly on meaning? In this case, both interpretations are valid and were there all along. You gotta love how the brain works.

          • I did, Edward. I said that 🙂 And Sarah. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

          • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

            No, Derek. I ALWAYS expect the Spanish Inquisition.

  • I like the way this story is written. I like “He had broken himself on the wheels of vanity and falsehood” and the way the characters are presented to the reader.

    • Edward Beach

      I liked the story as a whole, but that line you just quoted, Derek… I would never put something like that so close to the start of a story. I mean, yeah I get the reference to the Buddhist Wheel of enlightenment, and how that relates to the issues of falsehood and reincarnation that guide the story along, but that sentence is not just a mouthful, it’s an attention killer.

      As I said, I liked Sarah’s story as a whole. I just think she needs to build up slowly to that kind of sentence so the reader is already familiar with the references.

      • MPmcgurty

        Hi, Edward. It seems to me that this is another huge challenge in flash fiction. Although I must have learned about the wheel in a college theology class, it never crossed my mind when I read this. A longer piece might have afforded me an aha moment. Now I feel very unenlightened. 😉

      • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

        Thought of it more in relation to the Inquisition, rather than Buddhist karma–that Moritz had destroyed himself.

        • Edward Beach

          Who was it who said the author has no monopoly on meaning? In this case, both interpretations are valid and were there all along. You gotta love how the brain works.

          • I did, Edward. I said that 🙂 And Sarah. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

          • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

            No, Derek. I ALWAYS expect the Spanish Inquisition.

  • I never connected with the characters or the story which came across more as a parable than a flash fiction story. Maybe I just didn’t get it. No vote on this one today. Jeff

    • Edward Beach

      This comment, Mr Jeff, raises an interesting question:

      What is the difference between a parable and a short short story? Is there a difference, even? I ask purely out of curiosity because I don’t know enough about the specific rules of either form to say why they should be considered entirely different beasts.

  • I never connected with the characters or the story which came across more as a parable than a flash fiction story. Maybe I just didn’t get it. No vote on this one today. Jeff

    • Edward Beach

      This comment, Mr Jeff, raises an interesting question:

      What is the difference between a parable and a short short story? Is there a difference, even? I ask purely out of curiosity because I don’t know enough about the specific rules of either form to say why they should be considered entirely different beasts.

  • Tibor Simic

    My earliest childhood trauma was my grandmother feeding me dodgy Croatian dishes. “I’m not that hungry, grandma,” I would plead. “Can I just have some fruit?” “First you eat your eggs ‘n’ brain,” she replied, her unsmiling lips taut, “then we’ll see about the fruit.”

    This piece is a lot like that. “Can I just have some story?”, the reader pleads. “First you eat your imagery ‘n’ symbolism,” the author replies, her unsmiling lips taut, “then we’ll see about the story.” The pacing is pretty much that way too. A sentence comes in, you swallow, it goes down hard. Pause. Are we done yet? Another sentence comes in, you swallow, it goes down hard. Pause. Are we done yet?

    And after we’ve forced it all down, we get no story.

    The characters are dead. They speak in a stunted literary idiom, and their inner lives are heavy-handledly spelled out to us, rather than shown through their actions. Even when Moritz yells at Samet, the author just has to tack on that “incredulously” – as if giving the character permission to misbehave in HER story, or not trusting him to represent himself.

    Characters are given an ethnic background, which, judging by Sarah’s previous work, seems to be her way of injecting some colour into her stillborn creations. Dressed in little yarmulkas or not, their Jewishness plays no important role in the text. You could replace them with Parsis and the only thing that would change would be the gefilte fish.

    The prose is flowery, Bullwer-Lytton style. Figures of speech should convey ideas, not disguise the lack thereof.

    The plot is weak, the kind of a “true story” old women tell atheist grandchildren to set them straight.

    The author’s bio says she likes making much out of little, and this much is true. Rarely does someone write so pretentiously about something so banal.

    One star.

    And, really, spiders don’t gaze at people, angrily or in any other way. Sarah herself wouldn’t let another author get away with such a blunder.

    • As someone relatively new to this site, I’ve read a handful of stories and comments. Sarah’s comments always stand out. When I saw that today’s story was by her I read it wondering if she would write a story that would be worthy of her own review. I also wondered how other readers would review her. So I say Thank You! for this perfect review!

      • MPmcgurty

        If I may offer a suggestion, please click on Sarah’s name in the “Tags” and read some of her other works.

        • When I called Tibor Simic’s review “perfect” I didn’t say I totally agreed with it. I liked the story more than s/he seemed to. What I meant by perfect was that it had the same overly harsh, critical, and biting tone as all (or at least, most) of Sarah’s reviews that I’ve seen. I do intend to read Sarah’s other works. And I hope you have a great LD weekend too.

          • MPmcgurty

            Thanks, Denbe. I apologize for not being more clear. My comment was directed at your “wondering if she would write a story that would be worthy of her own review”. My view is that we ought not to.

          • J.B.Ripley

            “wondering if she would write a story that would be worthy of her own review”. My view is that we ought not to wonder.
            Agree.

        • terrytvgal

          Oh, Yes!! I do so Agree. A good reviewer may not be so great a writer but have a knack for critical assessment of others work. I suspect Sarah has some cracker-jack stories out there and 1 piece that doesn’t click with a few people doesn’t mean too much to the big picture.

          • Tibor Simic

            I disagree Sarah is a good reviewer. Time and again, she trashed a story because a character wasn’t a perfectly rational, likeable, agreeable person. She doesn’t seem to understand many basic literary concepts, such as the unreliable narrator, the subtext, lingustic registers. She makes incorrect complaints about believability (such as her claim that people don’t travel through deserts during the day.)

            Oddly enough, she’s big on symbolism and magic realism in her own work but she insists on reading everybody else’s strictly at face value.

            It might sound at this point as if I’m attacking her. I really have nothing against the lady personally, I’m sure she’s lovely as a person, and I wouldn’t be this honest if I didn’t think she had the maturity to accept an honest critical view.

          • S Conroy

            This really is moving in a direction which has absolutely nothing to do with the story in question. If you have an issue with someone’s specific comments, surely the correct place to address this would be beneath the specific comment.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      I’m glad you’re responding with enthusiasm to my encouragement to stand behind your negative votes.

    • Carl Steiger

      If I may review this review, I’d say it starts fairly cleverly, but appears to deteriorate into a personal attack before it’s done. (“Stillborn creations,” you say? Yikes!) I hope you’ll consider using the “edit” button to file off some of the sharp edges.

      For what it’s worth, I will concede that spiders do not normally glare at people, nor do rosebushes shake angrily, but I feel that anthropomorphism has a place in fiction.

    • Edward Beach

      Jeez Louise, someone get this girl a bucket to spit in!

      Hi Tibor. I always like a long review. It shows that someone cares enough about writing to have a strong opinion, whether that’s a negative or a positive one.

      I’d like to engage more with the content of your review, but I just don’t think I’m seeing all the flaws in this one as clearly as you are. Perhaps you could spell it out a bit?

      So when you say, “stunted literary idiom”, that sounds cool, I like stunts as much as the next guy, but what exactly do you mean?

      When you say the prose is “prose is flowery, Bulwer-Lytton style”, could you give a specific example? And who is this dude anyway?

      I do take issue with your claim that Sarah’s characters are “given” an ethnic background. I mean, we all have an ethnic and cultural origin, surely. None of us have magically appeared from the sky ready-made and provenance-neutral. Having a cultural heritage is as inevitable as having parents. So if Sarah had said the widow always puts ketchup on her Chicken McNuggets we wouldn’t be commenting, we would just assume that was a culture neutral reference even though it isn’t. You sees what I means?

      • terrytvgal

        The problem I had was in thinking of the Wheel as Buddhist which helped the seeming reincarnations to make sense. When it began to seem that the family was Jewish I didn’t know how the wheel and reincarnations fit.

        • Edward Beach

          I just assumed this was a family with Jewish heritage expressing Buddhist beliefs. We live in a heterogeneous world.

          In fairness though, I still took a lot from the story even though I didn’t take the author’s interpretation. We’re basically talking about religion here and they’re all pretty much the same. In fact, I’m surprised by how close the Dybbuk sect’s beliefs parallel Buddhist thought.

      • Tibor Simic

        I don’t think I need to explain or justify my review any further. You appear to have a working Internet connection for googling things up and besides, my previous review made far more obscure references and yet I didn’t hear from you about that one. So my gut tells me you’re trying to have one of those silly Internet debates with me. Those doesn’t work when the subject is scientific, so having one about a matter of taste is especially silly. If you disagree with my review, be my guest.

        • Edward Beach

          You’re right, it is a taste thing. I will never understand why some people like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or go to see what is essentially the same Fast & Furious film revamped 6 or 7 times. And yes, I do get silly from time to time but I would be interested in knowing more about your review. I’m still learning, just the same as most people who uses this site.

          • Tibor Simic

            I haven’t seen a single episode of Buffy, so I can’t say. Regarding Fast & Furious, I’d say they’re comfortably unchallenging. That and like porn: they press all the right buttons to give you a hormonal high.

            Oh, ok: let me answer your questions.

            Bullwer-Lytton is the author of the infamous opening sentence beginning with “It was a dark and stormy night”; you can’t find the whole opening online, and it’s worth reading. In its entirety, the opening is considered the foremost example of overly dramatic language that says little and adds little to the story. Such is Sarah’s language, in my humblest opinion. “Wheels of vanity and falsehood” means that the author owns a dictionary. “There was a little rouge on the white collar she washed for his business trip” is truth. Accidentally verissimilitude, but primarily truth.

            Stunted means “prevented from developing or growing.” The characters speak in the same register as the omniscient narrator, becoming its mouthpiece. The result is, I as a reader don’t believe in these characters as human beings. They’re porcelain figures in a decorative tableaux.

            Regarding the cultural background, I’ll give you an example. There was an Austrian writer, Gustav Meyrink, who wrote proto-magical realism. He also used a Jewish legend as a basis of his work, The Golem.

            In The Golem, the reader is immersed in the ghetto of Prague until the legend of the golem becomes not only believable but logical. In that instant, the universality of the legend becomes evident. That’s the power of the story. Anyone can say, “our fears are like a ghetto” and it sounds like a cliché. But, by hitting us in the face with a ghetto, and by retelling the legend with an eye for the archetypal, Gustav Meyrink makes us see the walls of our inner ghettos.

            Now, Sarah took the very same building block – Jewish characters, Jewish legend – and gave us nothing particularly real of the culture, and nothing universal. And no individual character to her protagonists.

            It’s the lazy “cultural background” you see in Dungeons & Dragons paperbacks (another example of comfortably unchallenging product.) Elves are mysterious, regal, good at magic, and have names such as Moobrook and Silverthorne. Dwarves are tough, honorable, good at fighting and drink pale ale from two-litre jugs. Jews come back as starlings and eat gefilte fish.

            Or, if you will, Italians are braggadocius, macho, loyal, and race fast cars. It’s probably no wonder Vin Diesel, the star of Fast & Furious, also likes Dungeons & Dragons. Perhaps he’d like Sarah’s story as well?

          • Edward Beach

            Now that makes much more sense.

            You know, thinking about what you said of the dialogue all coming across in the same register. I’m going through a piece of my own at the moment, told from the perspective of a Geordie biscuit-factory manager. In that piece I write a second and third character’s dialogue (they only have a few words) in the same register as the narrator.

            That seemed natural to me as the story is written in first-person narrative, with the narrator recounting an episode of his life directly to the reader (kind of like in a pub), and it seemed more important to me that the reader empathise with the narrator’s perspective than feel immersed in a varied world. Ha, just realised as I’m typing that I’ve effectively written a 2250-word monologue, which includes speech representation(?), but not dialogue strictly.

            I can understand (even if I don’t necessarily agree with) your complaint about Sarah’s dialogue because, if I’m right, her story is told in a third-person narrative form, which requires that individual registers are maintained in order to facilitate their characterisation. What’s your opinion on dialogue representation in the first-person?

          • Tibor Simic

            I don’t think the entanglement of registers is a universal problem. I believe that, in literature, the ultimate criterion is: does it work for this particular piece?

            In Sarah’s piece, everyone sounds like a channel for The Storyteller’s linguistic brilliance. She actually claims, in the comments, that she was trying to render the rhythm of Yiddish in English. Actually, she was rendering English blank verse in English; she consistently uses poetic metre: iambs an occassionaly amphibrachs, in the dialogue, rendering it poetical, but unnatural and, in my view, thus missing the register.

            (Incidentally, German, the closest language to Yiddish that I speak, seems to favour the anapest. Not terribly important, just sayin’. Everyday speech does not follow metre.)

            Now, a first-person narrative recounting the dialogue in the narrator’s style… I guess that can work in different ways. It can convey the narrator’s understanding (or misunderstanding) of what others have said. It can convey emotion. It can add verissimilitude. It can be comical. Chuck Palahniuk does that in The Pygmy. (If you haven’t read it, it’s about a pre-teen sleeper agent from a stereotypical dictatorship country narrating his misadventures in the USA in hilariously broken English.)

            I didn’t enjoy the novel and didn’t finish it, but the decision to convey the dialogue through the narrator’s filter seemed the correct choice.

            Ultimately, I don’t think it’s the dialogue as a narrative device that matters – it’s all about whether the characters come to life. I’m struggling, on and off, through Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. King’s far from perfect. He rambles, he gets cheesy, he’s inconsistent in tone… But he’s marvellous at getting into characters’ minds, which is, I believe, why he’s a millionaire. You can flip the book open randomly and you immediately know which character’s viewpoint is taken or who’s talking. King disappears into his characters completely.

            That’s what I wish I was able to do, but, alas! – a strong reviewer is almost always a pitiful writer, and I’m no exception…

    • Guest

      I loved this story and would like to give it a review as positive as this one is negative. Unfortunately I need to work today, so 5 stars will just have to express my feelings for now.

      • Tibor Simic

        I would be curious to read a more positive line of argument about this piece and I find it a shame, if not a surprise, nobody was able to provide any beyond the vague and meaningless “loved it.” But I hope one does eventually. Taste is subjective, and I don’t hold mine as the Absolute Truth.

        • Guest

          Hm. Never thought love was vague and meaningless. Seriously though, I’d
          love – that word again damnit – to have more time to analyse why I love
          this piece

          • Tibor Simic

            Your love might well be, if you have all this time to quarrel with me, but no time to write a 50-words review.

          • Guest

            This is getting silly and personal…If I really enjoy a piece it carries me along. I have a visceral gut feeling about it. To sit down and analyse why does take some time (It is easier for me to diagnose why I don’t like a piece in fact), but it doesn’t make the gut feeling vague and meaningless.

        • Joseph Kaufman

          I’m definitely not a fan of “I loved it” reviews, either. I’m the guy who thinks every five-star review should be accompanied by a one-star review at some point, otherwise any praise is feint and any criticism toothless. So, I definitely see where you are coming from.

          But upon further analysis of my stance on that, I realize it is nearly impossible (or at least very difficult) to state what makes something “good” (at least enough to not be considered “vague and meaningless”).

          You’ve done an exhaustive job of explaining what you think didn’t work here. That’s quite a bit easier (for me, anyway) than pointing to “likes”. If, for example, someone countered your viewpoints by saying all the things that bothered you DIDN’T bother them, would you accept that as a defense of a “good story” verdict, or would you instead remain incredulous (because of a lack of something more…solid)? Perhaps I am judging you unfairly by your tone, but I’m betting on the incredulity — you’d want more than that.

          For me, personally, I can’t state a distinct reason as to why the gaze of a spider doesn’t bother me. Such a justification isn’t possible, in fact, because that would be forcing me to prove something doesn’t exist. I also can’t tell you why I did not see the prose as even approaching Bullwer-Lytton style. So, what can I (or any fan of the work) really say about the piece other than, “I liked it and didn’t get tripped up by anything?” I could stretch that review out, I suppose, but what would be the point of padding? A non-fan would label that as sycophancy, no? And any additional amount of it as more of the same?

          Bottom line: What if someone did provide a more positive review, something beyond “I loved it”? I imagine such commentary would be a very straightforward affair, stating the prose was excellent and that gazing spiders were delightful. Like you say yourself, taste is subjective. Would any of that change your opinion? Would it offer up some sort of vindication or anti-vindication of other viewpoints put forth here? To put it another way, I’m not sure what you are looking for but I want to understand. What would a positive review (something beyond “I loved it”) help you with? You speak of curiosity, shame, and hope in regards to someone writing something more…definitive, so it’s apparently of some importance to you. Can you explain why? Is it primarily that you want the thread to be more useful from an educational or critical-thinking standpoint? (I’m just speculating — not trying to put words in your mouth…).

          • Tibor Simic

            I’m not a fan of either “I loved it” or “I hated it” review. I wish to exchange ideas with other people, get closer to realising how the minds of others work. A good review is creative and communicates something to those who disagree as well as those who agree with the reviewer’s views.

            The problem with the positive review is that we sometimes say “I loved it” when we really mean “I didn’t hate it.” When we truly love something, we love talking about it, pouring over the bits that stood out, making arguments against unjust criticisms…

            I wrote some positive reviews myself on this site. I won’t go so far as to say they were good, but they were specific and personal. I told the community why I, personally, loved the story. Some readers said they were eloquent. Well, that’s an example of what the kind of review I wish to read, too.

            Now, you might say that most readers have no time to write a detailed review, but some have the time to tell me how wrong, and rude, I am, don’t they? In the same amount of time, they could write something like:

            “the many Biblical images in the story (the fish, the rosebud, the bread and the yeast are obvious; the starling means “little star”; the spider appears in the Old Testament.) instil in the character of Simet a kind of feminine spirituality, forged it patience and action, that doesn’t need a male priest as an intermediary.”

            “The apparently stiff style is appropriate for the Jewish culture, steeped in custom and tradition, where every step is carefully measured lest a person excludes themselves from the community.”

            “The ‘wheels of vanity and falsehood’ is a powerful image, as the idea of putting oneself in a torture device raises the question of one’s own fault in one’s sufferings.”

            And so on. It took me about a minute to come up with each of these. I don’t particularly believe in them in the context of the whole story, but I would accept them as valid – and interesting – readings.

            Let’s get rid of “I love it / I hate it.” That’s such a barren and lazy thing to say, in literature and anything else. “I loved my holidays in Turkey.” Who cares? “I had breakfast in Turkey on the flat roof of the hostel. The pre-dawn was chilly and there was a balloon gliding over the fractal shapes of Fairy Chimney in the Valley of the Pidgeons. The sun came out. It was searing, but in the dry steppe air, it felt embracing. Its rays coloured the tea in my tulip-shaped glass rich mahogany…” WOW! Now I love Turkey too!

            Reading is a creative endeavour. A work of literature takes everyone to a different place. I’ll tell you of the place I visited, you tell me of mine.

          • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

            It’s also possible to analyze something so scrupulously that you find meanings the author didn’t choose to impose on the story.

            Starlings are tough and common birds, and the other name for them–“grackles”–was too harsh for the voice of the piece. Sparrows are too much of a cliche; other common city-dwelling birds have tender connotations, like pigeons.

            The carp? Thwarted once, Moritz is now determined not only to get into the house again, but literally inside his family. Simet is both thrifty and conscientious. Doesn’t want to waste that tasty fish, but doesn’t want to inflict Moritz on some iunsuspecting family. She doesn’t use pepper in her gefilte fish, but she knows who does. And that Moritz won’t tolerate it.

            The spider? Moritz is choosing smaller and smaller hosts. Of course by now he’s so angry that he can’t control himself enough to even simulate an adequate web.

            The rosebush? A tough perennial, that looks dead all winter but comes alive, every year, in what most gardeners might consider a miraculous way. And a thorned bush was necessary so it could destroy itself. Moritz wasn’t a drooper.

            The bread? She was a baker. Why a baker? A plausible business for a woman to run, by herself, in a time and place like that. Provided her the perfect medium on which to inscribe charms.

            More sophisticated interpretations are possible. Others can suffocate the story with them, if they choose.

          • Tibor Simic

            I gave these only as an example and I said I didn’t actually believe in them myself. The point, as I’ve also said, is that I believe reading is a creative process, and a piece of writing takes everyone to a different place, and I’m curious to know where your story has taken others.

          • Joseph Kaufman

            I completely agree with doing away with vague reviews, though I obviously can’t enforce that rule (not saying you said I should, just saying) and I don’t really let it bother me much. I should amend that — it only bothers me if I write a clear, even-handed review of something and someone else disagrees with me, but without bothering to say why. I think that is more about desiring similar substance (when agreeing to disagree) rather than simply being countered with something perfunctory.

            If someone else wants to give out five stars to a work simply because they “didn’t hate it”, it’s no skin off my nose. I’d rather folks use star systems in a more “proper” statistical way, but you and I both know that’s not really how it works. As in my previous paragraph, I don’t let it bother me much unless someone is expecting vagueness to be the ultimate “gotcha” counter to something more specific (something I have not seen on this thread — folks are just expressing opinions). I had some rather bad experiences over on the “Doctor Who” forums whenever I would post specific, well-reasoned NEGATIVE reviews of just about anything nu-Who. I was met with countless responses (mean ones) that genuinely thought saying, “But I love everything about this season!” and “The ratings are good” were scathing counters to my opinions.

            One thing I’d like to mention is that you’ve been very specific about certain things on this thread, and that’s why I’m prodding further. I’m talking about the overall tone and number of your comments, not just the original review. For example, you mention that you think Sarah is a bad reviewer. That doesn’t wash for me because it isn’t consistent. You say you want reviewers to be specific — she is. Just because you disagree with her specifics doesn’t mean she doesn’t “get it” or is wrong in her assessment. What doesn’t work for her doesn’t work for her, and she is very direct and consistent on those views. I should think you’d find that laudable, not a sign of a bad reviewer.

            Then there would be the issue of perhaps being a bit TOO specific in certain aspects of your own reviewing style. It is possible that a comment is so specific and pointed that it, in fact, becomes the very picture of vagueness. Calling another author’s work, all of it, “stillborn creations”, for example, is extremely vague. Talk about “I hated it” — you formed parts of your review in a way you yourself dislike.

            You didn’t really answer my question on what you, personally, would gain from a detailed, positive review of this piece (of which there are several by now). Would you dispute them? Would they change your mind? Would you try to change someone else’s mind? Do you believe the non-veiled vitriol in your original review was based on a potential lack of interpretive skills, or something that a “eureka!” moment might shift you from after reading someone else’s opinion? I ask these questions because I ask myself the same things when I present a strong opinion and desire differing PsOV. I don’t think you were wrong or rude, and I wouldn’t support anyone who said that to you, but we do need to abide by our own tone, and your initial tone set the stage for a large bulk of these responses. To call all of an author’s work dead on arrival but then later say, “All I really want is to have a fair, even-handed discussion about literature to really get to the gist of it,” is at least slightly disingenuous, don’t you think? It certainly doesn’t strike me as something leading to rapport, anyway…

            To put it another way, I don’t mind comments “telling me of a place visited.” But, depending on the tone of that communication, someone might not like my response when I tell of my own visit using a similar bearing. Worse, the whole process of true communication and finding common ground might be derailed before the train even leaves the platform. If real communication is your goal, I think you’ll have to agree that we’ve ALL much work to do.

          • Tibor Simic

            Wow. Where to start? It seems there are two issues at work here, the opposing PoVs, and my vitriol. Regarding the former, I really don’t have anything deep to say other that I prefer coming to a page of interesting reviews than uninteresting ones. I don’t necessarily want to change anyone’s mind – I try to stay out of debates – and I don’t usually change mine. If these things happen on their own, that’s great, but that’s not the goal. I just love getting a glimpse of other people’s minds. That’s why I like to read in general.

            You bring up the word “stillborn,” which somebody else picked out already. The word popped into my mind as I felt the story straining to get off the ground; the sentence-long paragraphs all ending on the same downbeat like rhythmical contractions; the images of blood and pain, even… And the end result? Lifeless characters, lifeless story. The word “stillborn” captures all my feelings about the story perfectly.

            I said Sarah was a bad commenter in response to someone saying she was “good at dissecting other people’s stories” (I was on a touchscreen, so it went in a wrong box, I think, and now the damage is done.) Dissecting implies insight; Sarah’s one trick is “Characters have personal flaws. Two stars.” That, in my humble view, is arrogance mistaken for insight.

            We could have some fun trying to review classic literature in Sarah’s style. Lemme try:

            Ernest Hemmingway, The Old Man and The Sea: “A shrewd fisherman would cut the line and catch other fish. Two stars.”

            William Shakespeare, King Lear: “The elder daughters’ praise felt insincere. Two stars.”

            Frank Herbert, Dune: “Doctor Yueh betrayed his only allies when it was clear Baron Harkonnen is not the type to keep his promises. Two stars.”

            George Orwell, 1984: “Smith knew keeping a diary was illegal and stupidly kept one anyway. Two stars.”

            Ok, this was mean and nasty of me, but admit you smiled.

            So, yeah, vitriol. I admit Sarah’s own vitriol helped set my tone. That a person so arrogant, so cynical, so desperate to run a fine comb through others’ work for tiniest flaws, would turned out to be such a pathetic author herself filled me, I must admit, with Schadenfreude. it was like seeing a self-proclaimed trash-talking ninja finally step into the ring and promptly trip over his own feet.

            But we should separate the work from the author, one could say.

            We should. I guess I’m disingenuous, after all. 🙂

          • Joseph Kaufman

            There are likely far more than two issues at work, but I’m trying to keep things (relatively) focused. *smile* In any case, the angle concerning interesting reviews and wanting to see other POVs (whether or not they ultimately change my mind) is something we are in violent agreement on. Consider that loose end tied.

            I’m glad you finished your post with a recognition of your own disingenuousness seeing as how you appear to still be trying to downplay your use of “stillborn”. I’d go so far as to say you’re opting for revisionist history if you are trying to say you meant that word only to apply to this story and only to mean the story came off as lifeless to you. Here is your full statement, so that nothing can be taken out of local context: “Characters are given an ethnic background, which, judging by Sarah’s previous work, seems to be her way of injecting some colour into her stillborn creations.” “Creations”, plural. And you mention Sarah’s previous work, meaning you, ostensibly, find ALL of her work to be “stillborn”. And let’s take a closer look at the word. If all of my creative ideas are stillborn, that means they have never really manifested themselves at all — they barely even exist except for those who knew they were, in fact, extant at one brief point in time. You’re basically stating this author’s very ideas aren’t…real. Or worse, that they have TRIED to be real but don’t pass the test to come into the realm of the tangible. They’re that bad — they are stillborn.

            Am I over-thinking that? I don’t think so. You’ve made clear you don’t like Sarah as an author, reviewer, or even as a person. Your attacks are ad hominem — you are calling Sarah herself — not her work or actions — arrogant, cynical, and pathetic. So, I don’t think there is any question (if there was before) of what you meant to say with your review.

            If Sarah said all of those things about classic works (I didn’t smile, but that’s because I didn’t feel much of anything), I may or may not disagree with her. But just because something is a “classic” doesn’t mean folks aren’t allowed to have their own opinions of the work. Like I said about the “Doctor Who” forums, saying, “But the show gets great ratings and a lot of people like it!” is not a shield against criticism. I had assumed you would agree, but now am not as certain. On one hand you say you, “love getting a glimpse of other people’s minds,” but then on the other you place strictures on what those glimpses are allowed to reveal before you resort to blatant personal attacks. That cognitive dissonance is starting to make me dizzy.

            To put things in one more perspective, you state: “Sarah’s one trick is ‘Characters have personal flaws. Two stars.’ That, in my humble view, is arrogance mistaken for insight.” First of all, I am not sure I have ever seen one of Sarah’s reviews be so short. Yes, I have seen her rate a story low because she doesn’t like the characters. And no, I don’t personally understand that. But I don’t NEED to understand it for two basic reasons, one as a fellow reader and one as a mod. First, she can have her opinion and I can have mine, and at least she is using the star-scale to its full potential (that’s more than you might be able to say for a lot of readers). Second, she is not attacking the author, but the work. I have never seen her call anyone names, nor have I seen her use language so wholly negative as “stillborn creations”. You’ll have to admit — that’s more your bailiwick. I don’t think Sarah’s comments are arrogance mistaken for insight. At most they might be considered “opinions mistaken for facts”, but even that would be in the eyes of the person reading the review.

            What do you think is in the eyes of someone reading your review, and do you believe your review incites and inspires folks to show glimpses of their own minds, something you claim to love?

          • Tibor Simic

            What I think is in the eyes of someone reading my review? Some said they loved it, some gasped in shock.

            Do I think it incites and inspires folks to show glimpses of their own minds? Yes, yes I do. Controversy inspires people to join the fray.

            Sorry if I sounded revisionist. No, I admit that everything of Sarah’s I ever read was, to me, stillborn. I stand by it.

            What saddens me is that you spent so much time and effort and made me spend my time and effort just so you could find an opportunity to misrepresent me as disliking Sarah as a person. I don’t know Sarah as a person and I don’t care about her as a person. I only spoke about her work as a writer and reviewer. I’m very disappointed in you.

            In the short time I’ve been here, I’ve been told my reviews expressed somebody else’s feelings “more eloquently that they could have”, or that I raised an interesting point, or that I revealed a hidden strength of a piece. You never asked me anything about any of those reviews.

            Yet because I dared touch someone apparently dear to your heart, you waste all this time on this drawn-out charade of “I’m-interested-in-what-you-have-to-say” to get me to say something you could misconstrue so that you could discredit me as a reviewer.

            Meanwhile, that same dear of yours trashes young author after young author on VERY questionable grounds, and that’s opinion, folks!

            Wow. Talk about disingenuity.

            I found out about the site from Wikipedia, which called it, I’m paraphrasing from memory, “one of the most important online markets.” It seems to me now it’s become a private club.

            The quality of the writing and discussion suffers as a result.

            I said I won’t be drawn into debates, so I’m stopping here. You’re a mod, ban me if you like. Otherwise, stop wasting my time and yours.

          • Joseph Kaufman

            I have no intention of banning you — the thought never crossed my mind. In fact, as we closed the other aspect of the thread we were discussing (wanting reviews to be in-depth), I stated we were in agreement. Not sure why you’d think I’d want to ban you.

            This part of the tread is winding down, too, and is reaching a meta-level where it becomes easier to agree to disagree (I think). You say, “Controversy inspires people to join the fray.” That’s a valid opinion. It’s just not one I happen to share. I should re-phrase — I do agree that controversy is something that CAN inject dynamism and passion into a discussion, but I think people CAN be inspired without it. I’m not saying this because I am conflict-averse. Quite to the contrary, I probably love conflict too much. I’ve ruined just as many discussions as I’ve inspired via confrontational tone and injecting things which ended up becoming more polarizing than illuminating. I think it’s OK to disagree about what “fires people up”, and like I said — I’m certainly not taking any action against you. I’d much rather continue talking.

            When I said I detected revisionism, I was going off of something you wrote that I apparently misinterpreted:

            *****
            You bring up the word “stillborn,” which somebody else picked out already. The word popped into my mind as I felt the story straining to get off the ground; the sentence-long paragraphs all ending on the same downbeat like rhythmical contractions; the images of blood and pain, even… And the end result? Lifeless characters, lifeless story. The word “stillborn” captures all my feelings about the story perfectly.
            *****

            I see “the story” in there twice. So, I thought you were trying to dial it back, so to speak, to say your “stillborn” word choice was only in regards to THIS story, even though the original review applied to plural stories. It is clear you didn’t mean to dial anything back, so I apologize for any references I made to you trying to change your words after the fact. I was absolutely not trying to misrepresent you in that regard.

            However, in regards to what you stated about Sarah, directly, I didn’t do anything to misrepresent you. You state this in your post: “That a person so arrogant, so cynical, so desperate to run a fine comb through others’ work for tiniest flaws, would turned out to be such a pathetic author herself filled me, I must admit, with Schadenfreude.” You are calling Sarah, her person (and her identity as an author) arrogant and pathetic. Am I mis-intreperting word choice or context? I’m getting the feeling you perhaps think I was baiting you? I wasn’t. I was absolutely not expecting that direct attack where before there was none — that’s why I mentioned it.

            As for your reviews that have met with kudos from other readers, congratulations. That has nothing to do with moderating/commenting, though. I’m not here to pat someone on the back when others perceive their words as golden. What I tend to do as a commenter is discuss something I disagree with. In that sense, I suppose I’m a sucker for controversy after all.

            What I don’t do is have any favorites. And I’m not sure what “young author”s have to do with this topic. Are you saying Sarah’s negative reviews are more deplorable because the writer’s of the stories are new or young? Personally, I won’t shield a first-time high school-aged writer any more than I would an oft-published forty-something.

            You have written many wonderful reviews, and I am very glad that so many folks enjoy seeing how you put your finger on what works (or doesn’t work) about a piece. And I value that you do so with gusto and thought-out discourse, something I would never wish to discredit.

            If you feel this has become a private club because I tried having further discussion with you about your review (without any threat of comment moderation or banning — those are all your words), then I apologize for whatever part I played in that. I don’t want this area becoming clique-driven any more than you do.

  • Tibor Simic

    My earliest childhood trauma was my grandmother feeding me dodgy Croatian dishes. “I’m not that hungry, grandma,” I would plead. “Can I just have some fruit?” “First you eat your eggs ‘n’ brain,” she replied, her unsmiling lips taut, “then we’ll see about the fruit.”

    This piece is a lot like that. “Can I just have some story?”, the reader pleads. “First you eat your imagery ‘n’ symbolism,” the author replies, her unsmiling lips taut, “then we’ll see about the story.” The pacing is pretty much that way too. A sentence comes in, you swallow, it goes down hard. Pause. Are we done yet? Another sentence comes in, you swallow, it goes down hard. Pause. Are we done yet?

    And after we’ve forced it all down, we get no story.

    The characters are dead. They speak in a stunted literary idiom, and their inner lives are heavy-handledly spelled out to us, rather than shown through their actions. Even when Moritz yells at Samet, the author just has to tack on that “incredulously” – as if giving the character permission to misbehave in HER story, or not trusting him to represent himself.

    Characters are given an ethnic background, which, judging by Sarah’s previous work, seems to be her way of injecting some colour into her stillborn creations. Dressed in little yarmulkas or not, their Jewishness plays no important role in the text. You could replace them with Parsis and the only thing that would change would be the gefilte fish.

    The prose is flowery, Bullwer-Lytton style. Figures of speech should convey ideas, not disguise the lack thereof.

    The plot is weak, the kind of a “true story” old women tell atheist grandchildren to set them straight.

    The author’s bio says she likes making much out of little, and this much is true. Rarely does someone write so pretentiously about something so banal.

    One star.

    And, really, spiders don’t gaze at people, angrily or in any other way. Sarah herself wouldn’t let another author get away with such a blunder.

    • As someone relatively new to this site, I’ve read a handful of stories and comments. Sarah’s comments always stand out. When I saw that today’s story was by her I read it wondering if she would write a story that would be worthy of her own review. I also wondered how other readers would review her. So I say Thank You! for this perfect review!

      • MPmcgurty

        If I may offer a suggestion, please click on Sarah’s name in the “Tags” and read some of her other works.

        Also, I believe we must be very careful to separate the reviewer from the writer. Works published here should be discussed on their own merits, without any thought to what the authors may have said in reviews. I may not be able to sew a dress, but I sure know when I see one that’s not well-made. Now I’m going to hop off my soapbox and go have a great Labor Day weekend. I hope you all do too!

        • When I called Tibor Simic’s review “perfect” I didn’t say I totally agreed with it. I liked the story more than s/he seemed to. What I meant by perfect was that it had the same overly harsh, critical, and biting tone as all (or at least, most) of Sarah’s reviews that I’ve seen. I do intend to read Sarah’s other works. And I hope you have a great LD weekend too.

          • MPmcgurty

            Thanks, Denbe. I apologize for not being more clear. My comment was directed at your “wondering if she would write a story that would be worthy of her own review”. My view is that we ought not to wonder.

          • J.B.Ripley

            “wondering if she would write a story that would be worthy of her own review”. My view is that we ought not to wonder.
            Agree.

        • terrytvgal

          Oh, Yes!! I do so Agree. A good reviewer may not be so great a writer but have a knack for critical assessment of others work. I suspect Sarah has some cracker-jack stories out there and 1 piece that doesn’t click with a few people doesn’t mean too much to the big picture.

          • Tibor Simic

            I disagree Sarah is a good reviewer. Time and again, she trashed a story because a character wasn’t a perfectly rational, likeable, agreeable person. She doesn’t seem to understand many basic literary concepts, such as the unreliable narrator, the subtext, lingustic registers. She makes incorrect complaints about believability (such as her claim that people don’t travel through deserts during the day.)

            Oddly enough, she’s big on symbolism and magic realism in her own work but she insists on reading everybody else’s strictly at face value.

            It might sound at this point as if I’m attacking her. I really have nothing against the lady personally, I’m sure she’s lovely as a person, and I wouldn’t be this honest if I didn’t think she had the maturity to accept an honest critical view.

          • S Conroy

            This really is moving in a direction which has absolutely nothing to do with the story in question. If you have an issue with someone’s specific comments, surely the correct place to address this would be beneath the specific comment.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      I’m glad you’re responding with enthusiasm to my encouragement to stand behind your negative votes.

    • Carl Steiger

      If I may review this review, I’d say it starts fairly cleverly, but appears to deteriorate into a personal attack before it’s done. (“Stillborn creations,” you say? Yikes!) I hope you’ll consider using the “edit” button to file off some of the sharp edges.

      For what it’s worth, I will concede that spiders do not normally glare at people, nor do rosebushes shake angrily, but I feel that anthropomorphism has a place in fiction.

    • Edward Beach

      Jeez Louise, someone get this girl a bucket to spit in!

      Hi Tibor. I always like a long review. It shows that someone cares enough about writing to have a strong opinion, whether that’s a negative or a positive one.

      I’d like to engage more with the content of your review, but I just don’t think I’m seeing all the flaws in this one as clearly as you are. Perhaps you could spell it out a bit?

      So when you say, “stunted literary idiom”, that sounds cool, I like stunts as much as the next guy, but what exactly do you mean?

      When you say the prose is “prose is flowery, Bulwer-Lytton style”, could you give a specific example? And who is this dude anyway?

      I do take issue with your claim that Sarah’s characters are “given” an ethnic background. I mean, we all have an ethnic and cultural origin, surely. None of us have magically appeared from the sky ready-made and provenance-neutral. Having a cultural heritage is as inevitable as having parents. So if Sarah had said the widow always puts ketchup on her Chicken McNuggets we wouldn’t be commenting, we would just assume that was a culture neutral reference even though it isn’t. You sees what I means?

      • terrytvgal

        The problem I had was in thinking of the Wheel as Buddhist which helped the seeming reincarnations to make sense. When it began to seem that the family was Jewish I didn’t know how the wheel and reincarnations fit.

        • Edward Beach

          I just assumed this was a family with Jewish heritage expressing Buddhist beliefs. We live in a heterogeneous world.

          In fairness though, I still took a lot from the story even though I didn’t take the author’s interpretation. We’re basically talking about religion here and they’re all pretty much the same. In fact, I’m surprised by how close the Dybbuk sect’s beliefs parallel Buddhist thought.

      • Tibor Simic

        I don’t think I need to explain or justify my review any further. You appear to have a working Internet connection for googling things up and besides, my previous review made far more obscure references and yet I didn’t hear from you about that one. So my gut tells me you’re trying to have one of those silly Internet debates with me. Those doesn’t work when the subject is scientific, so having one about a matter of taste is especially silly. If you disagree with my review, be my guest.

        • Edward Beach

          You’re right, it is a taste thing. I will never understand why some people like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or go to see what is essentially the same Fast & Furious film revamped 6 or 7 times. And yes, I do get silly from time to time but I would be interested in knowing more about your review. I’m still learning, just the same as most people who uses this site.

          • Tibor Simic

            I haven’t seen a single episode of Buffy, so I can’t say. Regarding Fast & Furious, I’d say they’re comfortably unchallenging. That and like porn: they press all the right buttons to give you a hormonal high.

            Oh, ok: let me answer your questions.

            Bullwer-Lytton is the author of the infamous opening sentence beginning with “It was a dark and stormy night”; you can’t find the whole opening online, and it’s worth reading. In its entirety, the opening is considered the foremost example of overly dramatic language that says little and adds little to the story. Such is Sarah’s language, in my humblest opinion. “Wheels of vanity and falsehood” means that the author owns a dictionary. “There was a little rouge on the white collar she washed for his business trip” is truth. Accidentally verissimilitude, but primarily truth.

            Stunted means “prevented from developing or growing.” The characters speak in the same register as the omniscient narrator, becoming its mouthpiece. The result is, I as a reader don’t believe in these characters as human beings. They’re porcelain figures in a decorative tableaux.

            Regarding the cultural background, I’ll give you an example. There was an Austrian writer, Gustav Meyrink, who wrote proto-magical realism. He also used a Jewish legend as a basis of his work, The Golem.

            In The Golem, the reader is immersed in the ghetto of Prague until the legend of the golem becomes not only believable but logical. In that instant, the universality of the legend becomes evident. That’s the power of the story. Anyone can say, “our fears are like a ghetto” and it sounds like a cliché. But, by hitting us in the face with a ghetto, and by retelling the legend with an eye for the archetypal, Gustav Meyrink makes us see the walls of our inner ghettos.

            Now, Sarah took the very same building block – Jewish characters, Jewish legend – and gave us nothing particularly real of the culture, and nothing universal. And no individual character to her protagonists.

            It’s the lazy “cultural background” you see in Dungeons & Dragons paperbacks (another example of comfortably unchallenging product.) Elves are mysterious, regal, good at magic, and have names such as Moobrook and Silverthorne. Dwarves are tough, honorable, good at fighting and drink pale ale from two-litre jugs. Jews come back as starlings and eat gefilte fish.

            Or, if you will, Italians are braggadocius, macho, loyal, and race fast cars. It’s probably no wonder Vin Diesel, the star of Fast & Furious, also likes Dungeons & Dragons. Perhaps he’d like Sarah’s story as well?

          • Edward Beach

            Now that makes much more sense.

            You know, thinking about what you said of the dialogue all coming across in the same register. I’m going through a piece of my own at the moment, told from the perspective of a Geordie biscuit-factory manager. In that piece I write a second and third character’s dialogue (they only have a few words) in the same register as the narrator.

            That seemed natural to me as the story is written in first-person narrative, with the narrator recounting an episode of his life directly to the reader (kind of like in a pub), and it seemed more important to me that the reader empathise with the narrator’s perspective than feel immersed in a varied world. Ha, just realised as I’m typing that I’ve effectively written a 2250-word monologue, which includes speech representation(?), but not dialogue strictly.

            I can understand (even if I don’t necessarily agree with) your complaint about Sarah’s dialogue because, if I’m right, her story is told in a third-person narrative form, which requires that individual registers are maintained in order to facilitate their characterisation. What’s your opinion on dialogue representation in the first-person?

          • Tibor Simic

            I don’t think the entanglement of registers is a universal problem. I believe that, in literature, the ultimate criterion is: does it work for this particular piece?

            In Sarah’s piece, everyone sounds like a channel for The Storyteller’s linguistic brilliance. She actually claims, in the comments, that she was trying to render the rhythm of Yiddish in English. Actually, she was rendering English blank verse in English; she consistently uses poetic metre: iambs an occassionaly amphibrachs, in the dialogue, rendering it poetical, but unnatural and, in my view, thus missing the register.

            (Incidentally, German, the closest language to Yiddish that I speak, seems to favour the anapest. Not terribly important, just sayin’. Everyday speech does not follow metre.)

            Now, a first-person narrative recounting the dialogue in the narrator’s style… I guess that can work in different ways. It can convey the narrator’s understanding (or misunderstanding) of what others have said. It can convey emotion. It can add verissimilitude. It can be comical. Chuck Palahniuk does that in The Pygmy. (If you haven’t read it, it’s about a pre-teen sleeper agent from a stereotypical dictatorship country narrating his misadventures in the USA in hilariously broken English.)

            I didn’t enjoy the novel and didn’t finish it, but the decision to convey the dialogue through the narrator’s filter seemed the correct choice.

            Ultimately, I don’t think it’s the dialogue as a narrative device that matters – it’s all about whether the characters come to life. I’m struggling, on and off, through Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. King’s far from perfect. He rambles, he gets cheesy, he’s inconsistent in tone… But he’s marvellous at getting into characters’ minds, which is, I believe, why he’s a millionaire. You can flip the book open randomly and you immediately know which character’s viewpoint is taken or who’s talking. King disappears into his characters completely.

            That’s what I wish I was able to do, but, alas! – a strong reviewer is almost always a pitiful writer, and I’m no exception…

    • Guest

      I loved this story and would like to give it a review as positive as this one is negative. Unfortunately I need to work today, so 5 stars will just have to express my feelings for now.

      • Tibor Simic

        I would be curious to read a more positive line of argument about this piece and I find it a shame, if not a surprise, nobody was able to provide any beyond the vague and meaningless “loved it.” But I hope one does eventually. Taste is subjective, and I don’t hold mine as the Absolute Truth.

        • Guest

          Hm. Never thought love was vague and meaningless. Seriously though, I’d
          love – that word again damnit – to have more time to analyse why I love
          this piece

          • Tibor Simic

            Your love might well be, if you have all this time to quarrel with me, but no time to write a 50-words review.

          • Guest

            This is getting silly and personal…If I really enjoy a piece it carries me along. I have a visceral gut feeling about it. To sit down and analyse why does take some time (It is easier for me to diagnose why I don’t like a piece in fact), but it doesn’t make the gut feeling vague and meaningless.

        • Joseph Kaufman

          I’m definitely not a fan of “I loved it” reviews, either. I’m the guy who thinks every five-star review should be accompanied by a one-star review at some point, otherwise any praise is feint and any criticism toothless. So, I definitely see where you are coming from.

          But upon further analysis of my stance on that, I realize it is nearly impossible (or at least very difficult) to state what makes something “good” (at least enough to not be considered “vague and meaningless”).

          You’ve done an exhaustive job of explaining what you think didn’t work here. That’s quite a bit easier (for me, anyway) than pointing to “likes”. If, for example, someone countered your viewpoints by saying all the things that bothered you DIDN’T bother them, would you accept that as a defense of a “good story” verdict, or would you instead remain incredulous (because of a lack of something more…solid)? Perhaps I am judging you unfairly by your tone, but I’m betting on the incredulity — you’d want more than that.

          For me, personally, I can’t state a distinct reason as to why the gaze of a spider doesn’t bother me. Such a justification isn’t possible, in fact, because that would be forcing me to prove something doesn’t exist. I also can’t tell you why I did not see the prose as even approaching Bullwer-Lytton style. So, what can I (or any fan of the work) really say about the piece other than, “I liked it and didn’t get tripped up by anything?” I could stretch that review out, I suppose, but what would be the point of padding? A non-fan would label that as sycophancy, no? And any additional amount of it as more of the same?

          Bottom line: What if someone did provide a more positive review, something beyond “I loved it”? I imagine such commentary would be a very straightforward affair, stating the prose was excellent and that gazing spiders were delightful. Like you say yourself, taste is subjective. Would any of that change your opinion? Would it offer up some sort of vindication or anti-vindication of other viewpoints put forth here? To put it another way, I’m not sure what you are looking for but I want to understand. What would a positive review (something beyond “I loved it”) help you with? You speak of curiosity, shame, and hope in regards to someone writing something more…definitive, so it’s apparently of some importance to you. Can you explain why? Is it primarily that you want the thread to be more useful from an educational or critical-thinking standpoint? (I’m just speculating — not trying to put words in your mouth…).

          • Tibor Simic

            I’m not a fan of either “I loved it” or “I hated it” review. I wish to exchange ideas with other people, get closer to realising how the minds of others work. A good review is creative and communicates something to those who disagree as well as those who agree with the reviewer’s views.

            The problem with the positive review is that we sometimes say “I loved it” when we really mean “I didn’t hate it.” When we truly love something, we love talking about it, pouring over the bits that stood out, making arguments against unjust criticisms…

            I wrote some positive reviews myself on this site. I won’t go so far as to say they were good, but they were specific and personal. I told the community why I, personally, loved the story. Some readers said they were eloquent. Well, that’s an example of what the kind of review I wish to read, too.

            Now, you might say that most readers have no time to write a detailed review, but some have the time to tell me how wrong, and rude, I am, don’t they? In the same amount of time, they could write something like:

            “the many Biblical images in the story (the fish, the rosebud, the bread and the yeast are obvious; the starling means “little star”; the spider appears in the Old Testament.) instil in the character of Simet a kind of feminine spirituality, forged it patience and action, that doesn’t need a male priest as an intermediary.”

            “The apparently stiff style is appropriate for the Jewish culture, steeped in custom and tradition, where every step is carefully measured lest a person excludes themselves from the community.”

            “The ‘wheels of vanity and falsehood’ is a powerful image, as the idea of putting oneself in a torture device raises the question of one’s own fault in one’s sufferings.”

            And so on. It took me about a minute to come up with each of these. I don’t particularly believe in them in the context of the whole story, but I would accept them as valid – and interesting – readings.

            Let’s get rid of “I love it / I hate it.” That’s such a barren and lazy thing to say, in literature and anything else. “I loved my holidays in Turkey.” Who cares? “I had breakfast in Turkey on the flat roof of the hostel. The pre-dawn was chilly and there was a balloon gliding over the fractal shapes of Fairy Chimney in the Valley of the Pidgeons. The sun came out. It was searing, but in the dry steppe air, it felt embracing. Its rays coloured the tea in my tulip-shaped glass rich mahogany…” WOW! Now I love Turkey too!

            Reading is a creative endeavour. A work of literature takes everyone to a different place. I’ll tell you of the place I visited, you tell me of mine.

          • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

            It’s also possible to analyze something so scrupulously that you find meanings the author didn’t choose to impose on the story.

            Starlings are tough and common birds, and the other name for them–“grackles”–was too harsh for the voice of the piece. Sparrows are too much of a cliche; other common city-dwelling birds have tender connotations, like pigeons.

            The carp? Thwarted once, Moritz is now determined not only to get into the house again, but literally inside his family. Simet is both thrifty and conscientious. Doesn’t want to waste that tasty fish, but doesn’t want to inflict Moritz on some iunsuspecting family. She doesn’t use pepper in her gefilte fish, but she knows who does. And that Moritz won’t tolerate it.

            The spider? Moritz is choosing smaller and smaller hosts. Of course by now he’s so angry that he can’t control himself enough to even simulate an adequate web.

            The rosebush? A tough perennial, that looks dead all winter but comes alive, every year, in what most gardeners might consider a miraculous way. And a thorned bush was necessary so it could destroy itself. Moritz wasn’t a drooper.

            The bread? She was a baker. Why a baker? A plausible business for a woman to run, by herself, in a time and place like that. Provided her the perfect medium on which to inscribe charms.

            More sophisticated interpretations are possible. Others can suffocate the story with them, if they choose.

          • Tibor Simic

            I gave these only as an example and I said I didn’t actually believe in them myself. The point, as I’ve also said, is that I believe reading is a creative process, and a piece of writing takes everyone to a different place, and I’m curious to know where your story has taken others.

          • Joseph Kaufman

            I completely agree with doing away with vague reviews, though I obviously can’t enforce that rule (not saying you said I should, just saying) and I don’t really let it bother me much. I should amend that — it only bothers me if I write a clear, even-handed review of something and someone else disagrees with me, but without bothering to say why. I think that is more about desiring similar substance (when agreeing to disagree) rather than simply being countered with something perfunctory.

            If someone else wants to give out five stars to a work simply because they “didn’t hate it”, it’s no skin off my nose. I’d rather folks use star systems in a more “proper” statistical way, but you and I both know that’s not really how it works. As in my previous paragraph, I don’t let it bother me much unless someone is expecting vagueness to be the ultimate “gotcha” counter to something more specific (something I have not seen on this thread — folks are just expressing opinions). I had some rather bad experiences over on the “Doctor Who” forums whenever I would post specific, well-reasoned NEGATIVE reviews of just about anything nu-Who. I was met with countless responses (mean ones) that genuinely thought saying, “But I love everything about this season!” and “The ratings are good” were scathing counters to my opinions.

            One thing I’d like to mention is that you’ve been very specific about certain things on this thread, and that’s why I’m prodding further. I’m talking about the overall tone and number of your comments, not just the original review. For example, you mention that you think Sarah is a bad reviewer. That doesn’t wash for me because it isn’t consistent. You say you want reviewers to be specific — she is. Just because you disagree with her specifics doesn’t mean she doesn’t “get it” or is wrong in her assessment. What doesn’t work for her doesn’t work for her, and she is very direct and consistent on those views. I should think you’d find that laudable, not a sign of a bad reviewer.

            Then there would be the issue of perhaps being a bit TOO specific in certain aspects of your own reviewing style. It is possible that a comment is so specific and pointed that it, in fact, becomes the very picture of vagueness. Calling another author’s work, all of it, “stillborn creations”, for example, is extremely vague. Talk about “I hated it” — you formed parts of your review in a way you yourself dislike.

            You didn’t really answer my question on what you, personally, would gain from a detailed, positive review of this piece (of which there are several by now). Would you dispute them? Would they change your mind? Would you try to change someone else’s mind? Do you believe the non-veiled vitriol in your original review was based on a potential lack of interpretive skills, or something that a “eureka!” moment might shift you from after reading someone else’s opinion? I ask these questions because I ask myself the same things when I present a strong opinion and desire differing PsOV. I don’t think you were wrong or rude, and I wouldn’t support anyone who said that to you, but we do need to abide by our own tone, and your initial tone set the stage for a large bulk of these responses. To call all of an author’s work dead on arrival but then later say, “All I really want is to have a fair, even-handed discussion about literature to really get to the gist of it,” is at least slightly disingenuous, don’t you think? It certainly doesn’t strike me as something leading to rapport, anyway…

            To put it another way, I don’t mind comments “telling me of a place visited.” But, depending on the tone of that communication, someone might not like my response when I tell of my own visit using a similar bearing. Worse, the whole process of true communication and finding common ground might be derailed before the train even leaves the platform. If real communication is your goal, I think you’ll have to agree that we’ve ALL much work to do.

          • Tibor Simic

            Wow. Where to start? It seems there are two issues at work here, the opposing PoVs, and my vitriol. Regarding the former, I really don’t have anything deep to say other that I prefer coming to a page of interesting reviews than uninteresting ones. I don’t necessarily want to change anyone’s mind – I try to stay out of debates – and I don’t usually change mine. If these things happen on their own, that’s great, but that’s not the goal. I just love getting a glimpse of other people’s minds. That’s why I like to read in general.

            You bring up the word “stillborn,” which somebody else picked out already. The word popped into my mind as I felt the story straining to get off the ground; the sentence-long paragraphs all ending on the same downbeat like rhythmical contractions; the images of blood and pain, even… And the end result? Lifeless characters, lifeless story. The word “stillborn” captures all my feelings about the story perfectly.

            I said Sarah was a bad commenter in response to someone saying she was “good at dissecting other people’s stories” (I was on a touchscreen, so it went in a wrong box, I think, and now the damage is done.) Dissecting implies insight; Sarah’s one trick is “Characters have personal flaws. Two stars.” That, in my humble view, is arrogance mistaken for insight.

            We could have some fun trying to review classic literature in Sarah’s style. Lemme try:

            Ernest Hemmingway, The Old Man and The Sea: “A shrewd fisherman would cut the line and catch other fish. Two stars.”

            William Shakespeare, King Lear: “The elder daughters’ praise felt insincere. Two stars.”

            Frank Herbert, Dune: “Doctor Yueh betrayed his only allies when it was clear Baron Harkonnen is not the type to keep his promises. Two stars.”

            George Orwell, 1984: “Smith knew keeping a diary was illegal and stupidly kept one anyway. Two stars.”

            Ok, this was mean and nasty of me, but admit you smiled.

            So, yeah, vitriol. I admit Sarah’s own vitriol helped set my tone. That a person so arrogant, so cynical, so desperate to run a fine comb through others’ work for tiniest flaws, would turned out to be such a pathetic author herself filled me, I must admit, with Schadenfreude. it was like seeing a self-proclaimed trash-talking ninja finally step into the ring and promptly trip over his own feet.

            But we should separate the work from the author, one could say.

            We should. I guess I’m disingenuous, after all. 🙂

          • Joseph Kaufman

            There are likely far more than two issues at work, but I’m trying to keep things (relatively) focused. *smile* In any case, the angle concerning interesting reviews and wanting to see other POVs (whether or not they ultimately change my mind) is something we are in violent agreement on. Consider that loose end tied.

            I’m glad you finished your post with a recognition of your own disingenuousness seeing as how you appear to still be trying to downplay your use of “stillborn”. I’d go so far as to say you’re opting for revisionist history if you are trying to say you meant that word only to apply to this story and only to mean the story came off as lifeless to you. Here is your full statement, so that nothing can be taken out of local context: “Characters are given an ethnic background, which, judging by Sarah’s previous work, seems to be her way of injecting some colour into her stillborn creations.” “Creations”, plural. And you mention Sarah’s previous work, meaning you, ostensibly, find ALL of her work to be “stillborn”. And let’s take a closer look at the word. If all of my creative ideas are stillborn, that means they have never really manifested themselves at all — they barely even exist except for those who knew they were, in fact, extant at one brief point in time. You’re basically stating this author’s very ideas aren’t…real. Or worse, that they have TRIED to be real but don’t pass the test to come into the realm of the tangible. They’re that bad — they are stillborn.

            Am I over-thinking that? I don’t think so. You’ve made clear you don’t like Sarah as an author, reviewer, or even as a person. Your attacks are ad hominem — you are calling Sarah herself — not her work or actions — arrogant, cynical, and pathetic. So, I don’t think there is any question (if there was before) of what you meant to say with your review.

            If Sarah said all of those things about classic works (I didn’t smile, but that’s because I didn’t feel much of anything), I may or may not disagree with her. But just because something is a “classic” doesn’t mean folks aren’t allowed to have their own opinions of the work. Like I said about the “Doctor Who” forums, saying, “But the show gets great ratings and a lot of people like it!” is not a shield against criticism. I had assumed you would agree, but now am not as certain. On one hand you say you, “love getting a glimpse of other people’s minds,” but then on the other you place strictures on what those glimpses are allowed to reveal before you resort to blatant personal attacks. That cognitive dissonance is starting to make me dizzy.

            To put things in one more perspective, you state: “Sarah’s one trick is ‘Characters have personal flaws. Two stars.’ That, in my humble view, is arrogance mistaken for insight.” First of all, I am not sure I have ever seen one of Sarah’s reviews be so short. Yes, I have seen her rate a story low because she doesn’t like the characters. And no, I don’t personally understand that. But I don’t NEED to understand it for two basic reasons, one as a fellow reader and one as a mod. First, she can have her opinion and I can have mine, and at least she is using the star-scale to its full potential (that’s more than you might be able to say for a lot of readers). Second, she is not attacking the author, but the work. I have never seen her call anyone names, nor have I seen her use language so wholly negative as “stillborn creations”. You’ll have to admit — that’s more your bailiwick. I don’t think Sarah’s comments are arrogance mistaken for insight. At most they might be considered “opinions mistaken for facts”, but even that would be in the eyes of the person reading the review.

            What do you think is in the eyes of someone reading your review, and do you believe your review incites and inspires folks to show glimpses of their own minds, something you claim to love?

          • Tibor Simic

            What I think is in the eyes of someone reading my review? Some said they loved it, some gasped in shock.

            Do I think it incites and inspires folks to show glimpses of their own minds? Yes, yes I do. Controversy inspires people to join the fray.

            Sorry if I sounded revisionist. No, I admit that everything of Sarah’s I ever read was, to me, stillborn. I stand by it.

            What saddens me is that you spent so much time and effort and made me spend my time and effort just so you could find an opportunity to misrepresent me as disliking Sarah as a person. I don’t know Sarah as a person and I don’t care about her as a person. I only spoke about her work as a writer and reviewer. I’m very disappointed in you.

            In the short time I’ve been here, I’ve been told my reviews expressed somebody else’s feelings “more eloquently that they could have”, or that I raised an interesting point, or that I revealed a hidden strength of a piece. You never asked me anything about any of those reviews.

            Yet because I dared touch someone apparently dear to your heart, you waste all this time on this drawn-out charade of “I’m-interested-in-what-you-have-to-say” to get me to say something you could misconstrue so that you could discredit me as a reviewer.

            Meanwhile, that same dear of yours trashes young author after young author on VERY questionable grounds, and that’s opinion, folks!

            Wow. Talk about disingenuity.

            I found out about the site from Wikipedia, which called it, I’m paraphrasing from memory, “one of the most important online markets.” It seems to me now it’s become a private club.

            The quality of the writing and discussion suffers as a result.

            I said I won’t be drawn into debates, so I’m stopping here. You’re a mod, ban me if you like. Otherwise, stop wasting my time and yours.

          • Joseph Kaufman

            I have no intention of banning you — the thought never crossed my mind. In fact, as we closed the other aspect of the thread we were discussing (wanting reviews to be in-depth), I stated we were in agreement. Not sure why you’d think I’d want to ban you.

            This part of the tread is winding down, too, and is reaching a meta-level where it becomes easier to agree to disagree (I think). You say, “Controversy inspires people to join the fray.” That’s a valid opinion. It’s just not one I happen to share. I should re-phrase — I do agree that controversy is something that CAN inject dynamism and passion into a discussion, but I think people CAN be inspired without it. I’m not saying this because I am conflict-averse. Quite to the contrary, I probably love conflict too much. I’ve ruined just as many discussions as I’ve inspired via confrontational tone and injecting things which ended up becoming more polarizing than illuminating. I think it’s OK to disagree about what “fires people up”, and like I said — I’m certainly not taking any action against you. I’d much rather continue talking.

            When I said I detected revisionism, I was going off of something you wrote that I apparently misinterpreted:

            *****
            You bring up the word “stillborn,” which somebody else picked out already. The word popped into my mind as I felt the story straining to get off the ground; the sentence-long paragraphs all ending on the same downbeat like rhythmical contractions; the images of blood and pain, even… And the end result? Lifeless characters, lifeless story. The word “stillborn” captures all my feelings about the story perfectly.
            *****

            I see “the story” in there twice. So, I thought you were trying to dial it back, so to speak, to say your “stillborn” word choice was only in regards to THIS story, even though the original review applied to plural stories. It is clear you didn’t mean to dial anything back, so I apologize for any references I made to you trying to change your words after the fact. I was absolutely not trying to misrepresent you in that regard.

            However, in regards to what you stated about Sarah, directly, I didn’t do anything to misrepresent you. You state this in your post: “That a person so arrogant, so cynical, so desperate to run a fine comb through others’ work for tiniest flaws, would turned out to be such a pathetic author herself filled me, I must admit, with Schadenfreude.” You are calling Sarah, her person (and her identity as an author) arrogant and pathetic. Am I mis-intreperting word choice or context? I’m getting the feeling you perhaps think I was baiting you? I wasn’t. I was absolutely not expecting that direct attack where before there was none — that’s why I mentioned it.

            As for your reviews that have met with kudos from other readers, congratulations. That has nothing to do with moderating/commenting, though. I’m not here to pat someone on the back when others perceive their words as golden. What I tend to do as a commenter is discuss something I disagree with. In that sense, I suppose I’m a sucker for controversy after all.

            What I don’t do is have any favorites. And I’m not sure what “young author”s have to do with this topic. Are you saying Sarah’s negative reviews are more deplorable because the writer’s of the stories are new or young? Personally, I won’t shield a first-time high school-aged writer any more than I would an oft-published forty-something.

            You have written many wonderful reviews, and I am very glad that so many folks enjoy seeing how you put your finger on what works (or doesn’t work) about a piece. And I value that you do so with gusto and thought-out discourse, something I would never wish to discredit.

            If you feel this has become a private club because I tried having further discussion with you about your review (without any threat of comment moderation or banning — those are all your words), then I apologize for whatever part I played in that. I don’t want this area becoming clique-driven any more than you do.

  • MaryAlice Meli

    I enjoy old-fashioned storytelling. This story form led me along to the end in a confident voice and vivid language. Beautiful, Sarah.

  • MaryAlice Meli

    I enjoy old-fashioned storytelling. This story form led me along to the end in a confident voice and vivid language. Beautiful, Sarah.

  • Lin

    Tibor couldn’t have put it more eloquently. This story suffocated under metaphors and symbolism. Sorry Sarah but this piece rates a 1 star, at best.

  • Lin

    Tibor couldn’t have put it more eloquently. This story suffocated under metaphors and symbolism. Sorry Sarah but this piece rates a 1 star, at best.

  • MPmcgurty

    Even though I am sort of a newbie to the site, I have gone back into the archives to read other pieces published here, and I have to say that this story does not measure up to most of Sarah’s other work, for me anyway.

    I found it confusing, but didn’t care enough about it to read more than twice. Sarah is very good at dissecting characters and stories, and I’d be curious to hear her talk about this piece, because it clearly meant something to her. Moritz is coming closer, but he’s dying, or he’s dead now. I didn’t understand the significance of the starling, the carp, or the spider; were they supposed to be Moritz inhabiting animals? Did the dream about Moritz going home portend them happening? I don’t understand why the bread made the rose bush recover overnight. I thought these images were bland, except for the wonderful line “It smacked its tail eagerly against the wood as though it could hardly wait to be eaten.” Fantastic. Perhaps you have to know a bit more about the culture and heritage to appreciate this story?

    Also – again, this might be my unfamiliarity – but the “volume” of much of the dialogue distracted me. It almost seemed like a parody and I’m sure that wasn’t intended.

    Sarah, I think you are a very talented writer, but this piece doesn’t point to it.

    • Edward Beach

      Hi Mr/s McGurty. You’re not alone on the volume thing. I often feel the dialogue on EDF is cranked up to 11. Perhaps that shows how hard it is to write dialogue well.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      The risk when writing a story strongly based on a non-dominant culture is that many readers will be flummoxed by overt and hinted at references. But too much explanation kills the story. So it’s a tricky line to balance on. I’m always sorry when a reader feels failed by a story.

      Dybbuks are part of medieval European Jewish folklore–the return of the unsettled soul of a recently-departed, usually to possess the body of a beloved (often the intended bride/bridegroom). But someone who’d lived a seriously unworthy life might come back as what would be considered a lesser i.e. non-human animal life form.

      The bread was inscribed by Simet with mystical letters (the four letters representing God’s unknowable/unpronounceable name) to exorcise Moritz.

      • MPmcgurty

        Thanks, Sarah, for explaining that. It IS tricky to balance, especially in this blasted flash format. I admire that anyone tries to do it. Given what you’ve provided here, I think I would have enjoyed it very much in a longer format where you would be allowed to add just a very few but very critical words. Thanks.

  • MPmcgurty

    Even though I am sort of a newbie to the site, I have gone back into the archives to read other pieces published here, and I have to say that this story does not measure up to most of Sarah’s other work, for me anyway.

    I found it confusing, but didn’t care enough about it to read more than twice. Sarah is very good at dissecting characters and stories, and I’d be curious to hear her talk about this piece, because it clearly meant something to her. Moritz is coming closer, but he’s dying, or he’s dead now. I didn’t understand the significance of the starling, the carp, or the spider; were they supposed to be Moritz inhabiting animals? Did the dream about Moritz going home portend them happening? I don’t understand why the bread made the rose bush recover overnight. I thought these images were bland, except for the wonderful line “It smacked its tail eagerly against the wood as though it could hardly wait to be eaten.” Fantastic. Perhaps you have to know a bit more about the culture and heritage to appreciate this story?

    Also – again, this might be my unfamiliarity – but the “volume” of much of the dialogue distracted me. It almost seemed like a parody and I’m sure that wasn’t intended.

    Sarah, I think you are a very talented writer, but this piece doesn’t point to it.

    • Edward Beach

      Hi Mr/s McGurty. You’re not alone on the volume thing. I often feel the dialogue on EDF is cranked up to 11. Perhaps that shows how hard it is to write dialogue well.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      The risk when writing a story strongly based on a non-dominant culture is that many readers will be flummoxed by overt and hinted at references. But too much explanation kills the story. So it’s a tricky line to balance on. I’m always sorry when a reader feels failed by a story.

      Dybbuks are part of medieval European Jewish folklore–the return of the unsettled soul of a recently-departed, usually to possess the body of a beloved (often the intended bride/bridegroom). But someone who’d lived a seriously unworthy life might come back as what would be considered a lesser i.e. non-human animal life form.

      The bread was inscribed by Simet with mystical letters (the four letters representing God’s unknowable/unpronounceable name) to exorcise Moritz.

      • MPmcgurty

        Thanks, Sarah, for explaining that. It IS tricky to balance, especially in this blasted flash format. I admire that anyone tries to do it. Given what you’ve provided here, I think I would have enjoyed it very much in a longer format where you would be allowed to add just a very few but very critical words. Thanks.

  • J.B.Ripley

    I liked this story as far as concept and resolution, but I wished the language was a little looser. The stiffness of the prose–an intentional voice, I’m sure; there’s nothing about this story that isn’t well thought out and deliberate–worked against it for me. Phrasing like “Simet took her ease” and “Even death has not moderated you” created incredible distance from the characters, even though I felt the world was fully realized and rich.

    Had there been a real sense of wonder, as exhibited perhaps, by prose that was less stiff, I think it would have been an easy 5 stars. But points for competence and mastery of voice, even if that chosen voice wasn’t necessarily my cup o’ tea.

    • Edward Beach

      Now this review I like. Phrasing such as, “It gives me heart’s ease”, and , “Then spring came – when sleeping things wake up”, just don’t help me as a reader connect with the narrator. I mean, who speaks like that, really?

      Even The Lord of the Rings, which is the most Ye Olde Worlde setting you can ask for from a (relatively) modern writer, even that is still written in passably modern English. I mean, if Bilbo Baggins walked into a bar and asked for a Bloody Mary, you could probably get what he was after. I haven’t a clue what this Simet bird is on about sometimes.

      I think there’s a degree of self-indulgence on the writer’s part here. It’s a shame because, like yourself JB, I actually enjoyed the story overall.

      • Carl Steiger

        I enjoy the high-falutin’ language in a fantasy. Now for something really self-indulgent and impenetrable, try reading The Worm Ouroboros. I think most who have tried hate it with a passion, but I must have read it five or six times myself.

        • Edward Beach

          Just read the first line on Google (pdf version). Vikings? Seedling time? Oh man…

        • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

          “I was given to Corund young…”

          On my bookshelf these nigh forty years…and lives onward in my heart, though the pages bear little turning now…

    • Frank Schulaner

      I don’t share your reaction to the story, mostly because I’m quite accustomed to these sometimes stiff legend-based wisdom tales. But I like and appreciate your review for not being judgemental.
      (And why did that red wavy line just pop up?)

      • Edward Beach

        The wavy red line people are watching you…

      • Edward Beach

        Judgmental, without the first e, perhaps?

        • Frank Schulaner

          I know, the red wavy line people are judging me. We’re old friends.
          Ages ago, Weequahic High School in Newark, and Webster’s Collegiate, considered judg- one of a small class of optional-e words. A bold cohort of Puritans, however, asked how anyone might achieve judge’s g-sound without a following e or i.

        • Frank Schulaner

          Uh, yes. Check the urbandictionary site for some cool stuff re this.

        • MPmcgurty

          Judgement is a variant. I spell it that way and I spell acknowledgement with another “e”. You can never have enough “e”s, I say.

      • J.B.Ripley

        The only thing I should be judgmental toward is the story, no? But thanks. 🙂

  • J.B.Ripley

    I liked this story as far as concept and resolution, but I wished the language was a little looser. The stiffness of the prose–an intentional voice, I’m sure; there’s nothing about this story that isn’t well thought out and deliberate–worked against it for me. Phrasing like “Simet took her ease” and “Even death has not moderated you” created incredible distance from the characters, even though I felt the world was fully realized and rich.

    Had there been a real sense of wonder, as exhibited perhaps, by prose that was less stiff, I think it would have been an easy 5 stars. But points for competence and mastery of voice, even if that chosen voice wasn’t necessarily my cup o’ tea.

    • Edward Beach

      Now this review I like. Phrasing such as, “It gives me heart’s ease”, and , “Then spring came – when sleeping things wake up”, just don’t help me as a reader connect with the narrator. I mean, who speaks like that, really?

      Even The Lord of the Rings, which is the most Ye Olde Worlde setting you can ask for from a (relatively) modern writer, even that is still written in passably modern English. I mean, if Bilbo Baggins walked into a bar and asked for a Bloody Mary, you could probably get what he was after. I haven’t a clue what this Simet bird is on about sometimes.

      I think there’s a degree of self-indulgence on the writer’s part here. It’s a shame because, like yourself JB, I actually enjoyed the story overall.

      • Carl Steiger

        I enjoy the high-falutin’ language in a fantasy. Now for something really self-indulgent and impenetrable, try reading The Worm Ouroboros. I think most who have tried hate it with a passion, but I must have read it five or six times myself.

        • Edward Beach

          Just read the first line on Google (pdf version). Vikings? Seedling time? Oh man…

        • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

          “I was given to Corund young…”

          On my bookshelf these nigh forty years…and lives onward in my heart, though the pages bear little turning now…

    • weequahic

      I don’t share your reaction to the story, mostly because I’m quite accustomed to these sometimes stiff legend-based wisdom tales. But I like and appreciate your review for not being judgemental.
      (And why did that red wavy line just pop up?)

      • Edward Beach

        The wavy red line people are watching you…

      • Edward Beach

        Judgmental, without the first e, perhaps?

        • weequahic

          Uh, yes. Check the urbandictionary site for some cool stuff re this.

        • MPmcgurty

          Judgement is a variant. I spell it that way and I spell acknowledgement with another “e”. You can never have enough “e”s, I say.

      • J.B.Ripley

        The only thing I should be judgmental toward is the story, no? But thanks. 🙂

  • Carl Steiger

    I’m actually surprised at some of the criticism I’m reading here, but let’s face it, different stories work (or don’t work) for different people. I can’t abide GRR Martin’s “Game of Thrones” books, for example, but most readers seem to love them, so more power to them.

    This story did work for me. The bit about the bread and the rosebush was somewhat ambiguous, but I view it as the final reconciliation between Simet and the soul of her late ne’er-do-well husband, and I’m happy with it.

    Thanks to MPmcgurty for the admonition below to judge a story on its own merits. I’ve savaged a few EDF stories myself, and I hope that bad karma doesn’t come back to bite me later.

  • Carl Steiger

    I’m actually surprised at some of the criticism I’m reading here, but let’s face it, different stories work (or don’t work) for different people. I can’t abide GRR Martin’s “Game of Thrones” books, for example, but most readers seem to love them, so more power to them.

    This story did work for me. The bit about the bread and the rosebush was somewhat ambiguous, but I view it as the final reconciliation between Simet and the soul of her late ne’er-do-well husband, and I’m happy with it.

    Thanks to MPmcgurty for the admonition below to judge a story on its own merits. I’ve savaged a few EDF stories myself, and I hope that bad karma doesn’t come back to bite me later.

  • Edward Beach

    Right, so here we go!

    Sarah, you’ve proved yourself once again to be the Marmite Lady of EDF. Judging by the comments here, and there’s plenty of them, people seem to either love you or hate you (I’m not in the latter camp btw).

    But anyway, the story. I like the story. I like it. The whole thing with the dead husband coming back, like some kind of freakin ghost, reincarnated into the body of a bird then a fish then a spider then a tree… and I’m glad Simet saved him from the rock existence. That didn’t sound like fun at all.

    But what’s with the language. It’s like someone dipped you in medieval juice and you forgot how to speak. I said it in a comment above and I’ll repeat it here; even Tolkien, writing a book about elves and wizards and princesses and all that guff, even he wrote in a passably modern idiom. Phrasing like, “It gives me heart’s ease”, and , “Then spring came – when sleeping things wake up”, just don’t sound genuine and don’t help me, as a reader, connect with the narrator. I mean, who speaks like that, really? It came across like a parody of a parable. Which is a shame, because the parable in itself would have been brilliant.

    Like I said, I enjoyed the story. But as with other stories of yours, it’s the use of language rather than the actual ideas that stop me from caring. I gave it 3 stars.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      I’ll wear that title with joy, Edward. Loving Marmite as I do.

      • Edward Beach

        Me too! 🙂

        • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

          I started at EDF with February 2012. No stories Oct/Dec 2013; Jan 2014.

  • Edward Beach

    Right, so here we go!

    Sarah, you’ve proved yourself once again to be the Marmite Lady of EDF. Judging by the comments here, and there’s plenty of them, people seem to either love you or hate you (I’m not in the latter camp btw).

    But anyway, the story. I like the story. I like it. The whole thing with the dead husband coming back, like some kind of freakin ghost, reincarnated into the body of a bird then a fish then a spider then a tree… and I’m glad Simet saved him from the rock existence. That didn’t sound like fun at all.

    But what’s with the language. It’s like someone dipped you in medieval juice and you forgot how to speak. I said it in a comment above and I’ll repeat it here; even Tolkien, writing a book about elves and wizards and princesses and all that guff, even he wrote in a passably modern idiom. Phrasing like, “It gives me heart’s ease”, and , “Then spring came – when sleeping things wake up”, just doesn’t sound genuine and doesn’t help me, as a reader, connect with the narrator. I mean, who speaks like that, really? It came across like a parody of a parable. Which is a shame, because the parable in itself would have been brilliant.

    Like I said, I enjoyed the story. But as with other stories of yours, it’s the use of language rather than the actual ideas that stop me from caring. I gave it 3 stars.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      I’ll wear that title with joy, Edward. Loving Marmite as I do.

      I appreciate your concerns here. Tolkien (we should all be so lucky as to come near the shadow of his feet) at least had the advantage of working with recognizable English dialects that placed his characters neatly within their environments.

      Trickier, I think, trying to render the rhythms of non-English languages in an English-language story. And especially with a language, like Yiddish-flavored English, that has been stock in comedy in the US. In all of my non-English-rendered-as-English stories, readers REALLY either love them or hate them.

      So there’s the dilemma of writing it in an easy, colloquial English style that gives no flavor of the atmosphere of the story, or risking Epic-Speak-like abominations. For my stuff, if it sounds right in my head, I go with it and hope readers will find it appealing.

      • Edward Beach

        Well, I guess what your saying here is that you’re trying your best, and who can fault that? And clearly it’s working for you! I mean, looking at your back catalogue I can see you’ve had a story published here every month going back to February, which (given the submission limitations) must mean everything you’ve submitted to EDF going to back to near enough November 2013 has been published. That’s some record! 🙂

        • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

          I started at EDF with February 2012. No stories Oct/Dec 2013; Jan 2014.

  • terrytvgal

    Well, it had no major flaws or obvious writing blunders but not much story as far as I’m concerned. is there some aspect of the Jewish faith that would help me to see more going on here than is obvious? 2stars. Thank you Sarah for your efforts.

    • Edward Beach

      In this story the tortured soul of a miscreant husband returns in various forms to haunt his widow, taking the form of a bird, a fish, a spider, and a rosebush. Before the husband’s soul finally degenerates to stone, the widow prepares some magic bread, placing it between the roots of the rosebush, thereby freeing both the husband’s soul and the widow herself from further harassment. The story is there, a great big story. It just hasn’t been communicated well.

  • terrytvgal

    Well, it had no major flaws or obvious writing blunders but not much story as far as I’m concerned. is there some aspect of the Jewish faith that would help me to see more going on here than is obvious? 2stars. Thank you Sarah for your efforts.

    • Edward Beach

      In this story the tortured soul of a miscreant husband returns in various forms to haunt his widow, taking the form of a bird, a fish, a spider, and a rosebush. Before the husband’s soul finally degenerates to stone, the widow prepares some magic bread, placing it between the roots of the rosebush, thereby freeing both the husband’s soul and the widow herself from further harassment. The story is there, a great big story. It just hasn’t been communicated well.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    And now my work here is done…my idea of a really fun day!

    It seems acceptable now to answer every comment individually but it feels a little like comment-stuffing to me. So above where I’ve done so, it was to clarify or respond to specific questions or issues.

    DEREK: I’m really glad you enjoyed this unreservedly.

    MARY ALICE: I’m really glad you liked this, too.

    CARL: You too.

    FRANK: You too.

    LIN: I appreciate when readers explain their dislike.

    JB RIPLEY: I appreciate your viewpoint and I’m glad aspects of the story appealed to you. I discussed language usage in my response to Edward.

    JEFF: I appreciate you explaining why this didn’t work for you.

    TERRY: I appreciate all your comments here.

    DENBE: Through the magic of Disqus, my comments history is easy to evaluate. I stand by the good and the bad twin equally.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    And now my work here is done…my idea of a really fun day!

    It seems acceptable now to answer every comment individually but it feels a little like comment-stuffing to me. So above where I’ve done so, it was to clarify or respond to specific questions or issues.

    DEREK: I’m really glad you enjoyed this unreservedly.

    MARY ALICE: I’m really glad you liked this, too.

    CARL: You too.

    FRANK: You too.

    LIN: I appreciate when readers explain their dislike.

    JB RIPLEY: I appreciate your viewpoint and I’m glad aspects of the story appealed to you. I discussed language usage in my response to Edward.

    JEFF: I appreciate you explaining why this didn’t work for you.

    TERRY: I appreciate all your comments here.

    DENBE: Through the magic of Disqus, my comments history is easy to evaluate. I stand by the good and the bad twin equally.

  • Gerald_Warfield

    Forty-one comments! Clearly I’m late to the party. Anywho, I enjoyed the story. I was not put off by the language. It earmarked a different culture. I didn’t expect them to speak the King’s English (or Tolkien’s). I also liked that she banished the dybbuk by feeding it bread (in addition to the name of God). The solution was within her abilities and came from within her own culture.

    I was thrown, however, by the first paragraph. I didn’t, even in retrospect, see how Moritz took the “high road towards home.” He appeared to be regressing.

    It seems to me that the story would have been stronger if we had seen how Moritz “profaned the home.” What was the final act that caused her to eject him? Still, that’s a minor nit. I loved that she chided the spider for its sloppy web.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      Gerald–so my thanks don’t get lost here (I don’t like comments-stuffing but this is clearly a special circumstance today…)–really glad you enjoyed this.

      “High road”–I was thinking of him as a sort of dead medieval highwayman relentlessly working his way back to his family.

      • Gerald_Warfield

        I disagree, which doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of the story. “Burning eyes,” “angry eyes,” these clue me that he was coming back to make mischief.

  • Gerald_Warfield

    Forty-one comments! Clearly I’m late to the party. Anywho, I enjoyed the story. I was not put off by the language. It earmarked a different culture. I didn’t expect them to speak the King’s English (or Tolkien’s). I also liked that she banished the dybbuk by feeding it bread (in addition to the name of God). The solution was within her abilities and came from within her own culture.

    I was thrown, however, by the first paragraph. I didn’t, even in retrospect, see how Moritz took the “high road towards home.” He appeared to be regressing.

    It seems to me that the story would have been stronger if we had seen how Moritz “profaned the home.” What was the final act that caused her to eject him? Still, that’s a minor nit. I loved that she chided the spider for its sloppy web.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      Gerald–so my thanks don’t get lost here (I don’t like comments-stuffing but this is clearly a special circumstance today…)–really glad you enjoyed this.

      “High road”–I was thinking of him as a sort of dead medieval highwayman relentlessly working his way back to his family.

      • Gerald_Warfield

        I disagree, which doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of the story. “Burning eyes,” “angry eyes,” these clue me that he was coming back to make mischief.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    My main problem with this piece was that the dialogue came across a bit wooden. If the dialogue flowed better, other difficulties with the story, i.e. it being an unfamiliar setting / culture that had to be absorbed by the reader, could have been lessened.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      Paul, I appreciate your comment.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    My main problem with this piece was that the dialogue came across a bit wooden. If the dialogue flowed better, other difficulties with the story, i.e. it being an unfamiliar setting / culture that had to be absorbed by the reader, could have been lessened.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      Paul, I appreciate your comment.

  • Chris Antenen

    Well, goodness me, all this todo about a story when all it needed was a second read. And what good story doesn’t demand a second read? Great pace and a smooth path to the end. I’m particularly partial to the spider. Only one comment. There were times when I stumbled and had to re-read a sentence or two. Usually that stumble can be eliminated if the writer will read his or her work aloud before calling if complete. Easily a four.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      Chris–especially glad you liked this.

  • Chris Antenen

    Well, goodness me, all this todo about a story when all it needed was a second read. And what good story doesn’t demand a second read? Great pace and a smooth path to the end. I’m particularly partial to the spider. Only one comment. There were times when I stumbled and had to re-read a sentence or two. Usually that stumble can be eliminated if the writer will read his or her work aloud before calling if complete. Easily a four.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      Chris–especially glad you liked this.

  • S Conroy

    I enjoyed this unreservedly, high fallutin’ language an’ all. Find it really interesting that the original was jiddish. It does give it an exotic flavour which totally appeals. I preferred my own, perhaps sentimental, understanding of the end – ‘despite all, the husband still enjoyed her cooking and decides to leave her be’ – than the writer’s intended exorcism.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      S. Conroy: Thank you for liking this. Just to clarify–this is the original story, it’s not translated from Yiddish or anything–I was trying though to capture the speech rhythms of a Yiddish-speaker in the construction of the language here. That’s tricky because Yiddish-English is well-represented in American humor. But I wanted, without over-description, to give the flavor of a particular time and place.

      • S Conroy

        Yes, I got that. Appreciated it too.

  • S Conroy

    I enjoyed this unreservedly, high fallutin’ language an’ all. Find it really interesting that the original was jiddish. It does give it an exotic flavour which totally appeals. I preferred my own, perhaps sentimental, understanding of the end – ‘despite all, the husband still enjoyed her cooking and decides to leave her be’ – than the writer’s intended exorcism.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      S. Conroy: Thank you for liking this. Just to clarify–this is the original story, it’s not translated from Yiddish or anything–I was trying though to capture the speech rhythms of a Yiddish-speaker in the construction of the language here. That’s tricky because Yiddish-English is well-represented in American humor. But I wanted, without over-description, to give the flavor of a particular time and place.

      • S Conroy

        Yes, I get that. Appreciate it too.

  • joanna b.

    hi sarah,

    i live in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and so EDF comes to me later in the day than it does to most of the other readers. when i got to The Dybbuk Rosebush, the comment thread was already out of control.

    so i kept mulling whether or not i should wreck it further and then couldn’t resist.

    the images were great, like “he cracked his skull open on the cobblestones of another town … .” every word in that sentence so wickedly simple and wickedly perfect.

    “he’d broken himself on the wheels of vanity and falsehood,” that too was evocative although i couldn’t see it like I could see the cracked skull and the cobblestones.

    however, both in the same paragraph felt like a burden on me, the reader. that kind of burden in a story distracts me and makes it harder for me to appreciate the story line.

    on first reading, i found myself distanced too much from the MC and her failed marriage, her husband’s death, his visitations to her after death.

    now on my fifth reading of it, i appreciate The Dybbuk Rosebush much more. the last sentence is genius: the yeast going straight to the root of the problem.

    “then came the carp … even for a carp, it had a wild eye.” brilliant. so visual, so elegant. but if you check the last sentence of that paragraph, you don’t need “eagerly” because you communicate that by “couldn’t wait to be eaten,” the latter a much more original image. the use of “eagerly” often takes me out of a story.

    but finally, what i think i needed was the promise, the pain, the disappointment, the anger, the fear inside the MC about her marriage and her husband’s death. i wanted to be more privy to her feelings and less privy to her dialogue, actions and surroundings.

    for example, i didn’t need the child and the little maid sleeping contentedly after the Shabbos meal. i needed the MC mulling, in your own inimitable words, about throwing her husband out into the street and her guilt over doing that. or else, her guilt over her lack of guilt at doing that.

    all that said, i went back over much of your work on EDF after reading this imperfect storm of comments on The Dybbuk Rosebush, including, now, my own.

    and immediately, there was Set Theory, one of my top favorites on all of EDF. a brilliant story. a piece of sci-fi that should be anthologized. (has it been?) yet all it got was an average rating of 3.3 when it should have been in the high 4’s.

    i think your EDF stories in general are rated too low. i don’t know what that’s about. it must be related to many factors, some of which have been mentioned already, and others that haven’t.

    but one factor stands out in the comments: readers saying that they have trouble understanding your stories. this shows up in comments that are negative but also in comments that are positive. if you don’t mind my saying this, that would seem to me the one thing that you do have the power to change should you want to.

    anyway, i think your writing is brilliant. that is my bottom line here.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      Joanna–I’m glad you overcame that first instinct towards prudence…

      Who knew a simple little Yiddishkeit story would cause all this.

      A commenter on my first ever EDF story called it “very subtle writing.” Most readers probably think along the continuum from “obscure” to “incomprehensible.” So I’m really grateful that some readers have stayed with me, and some new readers also think I’m worth reading and thinking about, because even with popular genres I take up less popular themes.

      Word choices–I have a very strangely visual connection to the printed word. Every word seems to have its own facial expression to me (tell the men in the white coats to wait until later, please). So although I’m a true believer in Elmore Leonard’s creed of no dialogue tags and minimal adjectives/adverbs, I didn’t want that carp to seem impatient, or frantic–it was the manic intensity of “eagerly” that was important to that moment in the story, for me.

      Many other points you and other commenters here have raised about this story are on target.

      About Simet’s reactions and her inner life–I saw her as very straightforwardly and without regret dealing with what we might call a housekeeping problem. She loved Moritz intensely and compassionately, but the sanctity of the home and family that centered around the child took primacy. Once Moritz went too far there was no looking back. There were only practical matters to contend with. So for this MC, inner life was truthfully expressed by outer actions.

      I can’t tell you what it means to me, as a writer, that you took so much time, going back through my stories here and considering them as you have done today. Of course I would love to be popular. But for me, with each story, at least one reader and sometimes a few more have really connected with what I said, and understood and loved what I did, and I think I’ve achieved for myself more than many writers ever get–especially because this is direct response from readers and not anonymous sales numbers.

      I knew when I began to comment on others’ stories that I was going to develop an un-following that might impact the ratings of my own stuff. And I’m never exactly thrilled to see a story sink like a stone while really incredibly wonderful comments accumulate. But I think EDF is the big kids’ end of the pool, and though it’s not the sort of paying market that will buy any of us that 50-acre estate, it’s consistently read by a tough, discerning audience, and it’s damned significant to me to be published here. I hold everyone to the same standard I hope to achieve for myself.

      “Set Theory”–I loved what you said about it at the time, and what you say now, and it is probably my own favorite here too. Anthology? From your lips to God’s ear. If not? I’m pretty honored to have it live on here.

  • joanna b.

    hi sarah,

    i live in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and so EDF comes to me later in the day than it does to most of the other readers. when i got to The Dybbuk Rosebush, the comment thread was already out of control.

    so i kept mulling whether or not i should wreck it further and then couldn’t resist.

    the images were great, like “he cracked his skull open on the cobblestones of another town … .” every word in that sentence so wickedly simple and wickedly perfect.

    “he’d broken himself on the wheels of vanity and falsehood,” that too was evocative although i couldn’t see it like I could see the cracked skull and the cobblestones.

    however, both in the same paragraph felt like a burden on me, the reader. that kind of burden in a story distracts me and makes it harder for me to appreciate the story line.

    on first reading, i found myself distanced too much from the MC and her failed marriage, her husband’s death, his visitations to her after death.

    now on my fifth reading of it, i appreciate The Dybbuk Rosebush much more. the last sentence is genius: the yeast going straight to the root of the problem.

    “then came the carp … even for a carp, it had a wild eye.” brilliant. so visual, so elegant. but if you check the last sentence of that paragraph, you don’t need “eagerly” because you communicate that by “couldn’t wait to be eaten,” the latter a much more original image. the use of “eagerly” often takes me out of a story.

    but finally, what i think i needed was the promise, the pain, the disappointment, the anger, the fear inside the MC about her marriage and her husband’s death. i wanted to be more privy to her feelings and less privy to her dialogue, actions and surroundings.

    for example, i didn’t need the child and the little maid sleeping contentedly after the Shabbos meal. i needed the MC mulling, in your own inimitable words, about throwing her husband out into the street and her guilt over doing that. or else, her guilt over her lack of guilt at doing that.

    all that said, i went back over much of your work on EDF after reading this imperfect storm of comments on The Dybbuk Rosebush, including, now, my own.

    and immediately, there was Set Theory, one of my top favorites on all of EDF. a brilliant story. a piece of sci-fi that should be anthologized. (has it been?) yet all it got was an average rating of 3.3 when it should have been in the high 4’s.

    i think your EDF stories in general are rated too low. i don’t know what that’s about. it must be related to many factors, some of which have been mentioned already, and others that haven’t.

    but one factor stands out in the comments: readers saying that they have trouble understanding your stories. this shows up in comments that are negative but also in comments that are positive. if you don’t mind my saying this, that would seem to me the one thing that you do have the power to change should you want to.

    anyway, i think your writing is brilliant. that is my bottom line here.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      Joanna–I’m glad you overcame that first instinct towards prudence…

      Who knew a simple little Yiddishkeit story would cause all this.

      A commenter on my first ever EDF story called it “very subtle writing.” Most readers probably think along the continuum from “obscure” to “incomprehensible.” So I’m really grateful that some readers have stayed with me, and some new readers also think I’m worth reading and thinking about, because even with popular genres I take up less popular themes.

      Word choices–I have a very strangely visual connection to the printed word. Every word seems to have its own facial expression to me (tell the men in the white coats to wait until later, please). So although I’m a true believer in Elmore Leonard’s creed of no dialogue tags and minimal adjectives/adverbs, I didn’t want that carp to seem impatient, or frantic–it was the manic intensity of “eagerly” that was important to that moment in the story, for me.

      Many other points you and other commenters here have raised about this story are on target.

      About Simet’s reactions and her inner life–I saw her as very straightforwardly and without regret dealing with what we might call a housekeeping problem. She loved Moritz intensely and compassionately, but the sanctity of the home and family that centered around the child took primacy. Once Moritz went too far there was no looking back. There were only practical matters to contend with. So for this MC, inner life was truthfully expressed by outer actions.

      I can’t tell you what it means to me, as a writer, that you took so much time, going back through my stories here and considering them as you have done today. Of course I would love to be popular. But for me, with each story, at least one reader and sometimes a few more have really connected with what I said, and understood and loved what I did, and I think I’ve achieved for myself more than many writers ever get–especially because this is direct response from readers and not anonymous sales numbers.

      I knew when I began to comment on others’ stories that I was going to develop an un-following that might impact the ratings of my own stuff. And I’m never exactly thrilled to see a story sink like a stone while really incredibly wonderful comments accumulate. But I think EDF is the big kids’ end of the pool, and though it’s not the sort of paying market that will buy any of us that 50-acre estate, it’s consistently read by a tough, discerning audience, and it’s damned significant to me to be published here. I hold everyone to the same standard I hope to achieve for myself.

      “Set Theory”–I loved what you said about it at the time, and what you say now, and it is probably my own favorite here too. Anthology? From your lips to God’s ear. If not? I’m pretty honored to have it live on here.