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  1. #1
    Gregory White
    Guest

    Critique please?

    I am reworking E.M. Forster's HOWARD'S END (now in the public domain) and setting it in 2006 New York. Any critique is appreciated as I am still searching desperately for my "style"....my writer's voice.

    thanks, Gregory

    ------

    Margaret was hungry. It was nearly three in the afternoon. She opened the blinds and looked down onto West 15th Street. It was the Saturday before Memorial Day. For New York that meant the streets would be crowded with people wandering around in t-shirts and flip-flops, happy to have three days off. A couple walked by and a boy skateboarded past them. Margaret wasn't sure what she craved. She turned her head towards the direction of her bedroom where her purse was on the dresser. Maybe she would walk down to Chelsea's Grill and order the largest, drippiest burger on the menu instead of her usual choice: the Grilled Tuscan vegetable platter. She would have the apartment to herself for another two days and the thought of sneaking a forbidden burger (fries too) without her sister's knowledge made the thought more tempting.

    She was startled when she heard the front door open, then close, followed by footsteps on the hardwood floors. “Hello?” Margaret asked and heard what she thought was luggage being dropped on the floor. “Helen, is that you?” She headed towards the living room.

    Helen was already there, pulling her canvas purse strap over her head then tossed it onto the sofa. “Yes. It’s me.”

    “You weren’t coming home until Monday night. What’s wrong?”

    “I’ve come home because, apparently, I’m a whore and a gold-digger.”

    Helen flopped down on the couch beside her bag and its contents rattled. Margaret sat on the arm of the opposite chair. “What are you talking about? Who said that?”

    “The Winterbournes. That’s what they think of me.” Helen crossed her arms and stared at the area rug through the glass coffee table.

    Margaret studied her sister’s face for the truth. Twenty-four was still such an overly dramatic age; especially true for Helen. It was just a week ago that Helen had over-reacted when a waiter got her order wrong twice while Margaret’s arrived at the table perfectly. She was convinced there was something about her the waiter didn’t like; that an ex-lover of his was a brunette, like Helen, and now she was bearing the brunt of his heartache with an undercooked steak. “Now, Helen. They didn’t actually say that. Did they? Who said it? Tell me what happened!”

    “Charles Winterbourne said it.”

    “That’s the older brother, right?”

    Helen nodded and went silent again.

    Margaret slid off the arm and into the seat of the chair and leaned forward. “What exactly did he say to you?”

    “I told you. He called me a gold-digger.”

    “So, not a whore, then?”

    “Meg!” Helen’s eyebrows curled together.

    Margaret settled the pillow behind her and leaned back. It was obvious this was going to be long, drawn out. “That’s what you said. I didn’t.”

    “Well, I guess he didn’t say either one, exactly. Not out loud. But it was implied!”

    “Start from the beginning and just tell me what happened.”

    Helen shifted, pulling her legs underneath her and adjusted her skirt. “Well, yesterday started out just wonderful. We all went shopping in New Haven, lunch, browsed around antique shops. All except Evelyn, that’s the daughter. She and her boyfriend had something planned with friends. And the entire day Paul is flirting with me. Well, I guess I was flirting back too but ---“

    “Paul. The younger brother?”

    “Yes. The younger. He’s my age. Well, maybe twenty-seven.” She looked up at the ceiling. “No. Wait. A year younger. Yes. He’s twenty-four.”

    “Helen!” Margaret’s stomach growled.

    “All right, all right. Anyway, it was about eleven o’clock last night and Paul and I decided to take a swim in the pool.”

    Margaret grabbed the pillow from behind her and clutched it to her chest. “I don’t like where this is leading at all.”

    Helen hushed her. “One thing led to another, a little kissing, things got a bit heated and before you know it, we’re not wearing our bathing suits.”

    “And that’s when you became the whore,” Margaret laughed.
    Helen ignored her. “No. That’s when Charles and Mrs. Winterbourne came walking around the house and saw us.”

    “No!”

    “We didn’t actually do anything. We were just swimming.”

    “And kissing.”

    “Yes, and kissing.”

    “Naked.” Margaret tapped her finger to her lips, trying to hold back a smile.

    “Whatever. We weren’t doing anything wrong.”

    “Oh, Helen!”

    “Why do you say it like that? ‘Oh, Helen’, like I’ve just brought home a lost crocodile or something.”

    “Well, you certainly would if you found one homeless on the streets, asking for spare change. What did they do?”

    “That was the thing. Nothing. Mrs. Winterbourne even seemed amused, I guess. She sort of giggled then went into the house. It was Charles that looked pissed. This morning, Paul and I just laughed it off. The result of too much wine, you know?” Helen tossed her purse on the floor and scooted closer to Margaret. “So, after breakfast, Charles corners me in the garden and informs me that his father makes them work the company from the ground up. He said that Paul is going into an entry position and that I am wasting my time with him.”

    “Yes, that does sound like he was implying the gold-digging part. But maybe he was just looking out for his little brother.”

    “Are you taking his side?”

    “I’m on your side, of course,” Margaret said. “I’m just saying that when a family has as much money as the Winterbournes then they probably keep their guards up.”

    “Maybe. But still.”

    “No. Charles shouldn’t have said that to you. What did Mr. and Mrs. Winterbourne say when you told them you were leaving early?”

    “Mr. Winterbourne had already left, right after breakfast, to run some errands or something. When Charles said that to me, I didn’t know what to say. I was speechless. Then we started to argue.”

    Margaret stood up. “Don’t stop. Follow me into the kitchen and I’ll put some tea on the stove. I’ve only had two boiled eggs all day. I’m starving!” Helen followed her and sat down at the kitchen table. Margaret put the tea kettle under the running faucet and placed it on the stove, throwing in three bags of green tea. “Go on. You were arguing.” She reached into the refrigerator and pulled out half of a cheese ball then some Ritz crackers from the cabinet. She grabbed a butter knife from the drawer and sat down across from Helen.

    “As I was saying, I didn’t know what to say. So I called him an arrogant @!#$.” Helen took the knife from Margaret and cut into the cheese ball, stabbing it like she was cutting into Charles Winterbourne. Spreading it on the cracker, she said, “So there we were, calling each other names at the top of our lungs and Mrs. Winterbourne came out into the garden.”

    “I suppose I can mark her off my list of potential clients,” said Margaret.

    “No. She calmed us down, all at once it seemed. She told Charles to apologize for his rudeness and sent him in the house.”

    “Mrs. Winterbourne always stuck me as being a genuine lady.”

    “I told her I thought I’d better go home and she apologized and begged me to stay. But I said it was probably best and she made me promise to come again another time. Ugh! It was such a mess over nothing!” Helen sighed.

    Margaret chewed a cracker and walked to the stove where the kettle was whistling. She poured two cups of tea and set them on the table along with the honey bear from the counter. “It does seem like way too much drama and anger over a little skinny dipping.”

    Helen nodded and ignored the honey, putting two teaspoons of sugar into her cup.

    Margaret blew on the hot tea and steam poured out the other side of the cup. She took a sip. “Well, Helen, it’s like this. I’ve been thinking about this the whole time we’ve been talking. When a family is wealthy like the Winterbournes, they have to look out for themselves, protect what they have. We’re comfortable, I guess, but we have the freedom to also enjoy life, thanks to Dad, and we only worry about little things. Of course, if we’re not careful, we would worry about rent like so many people. But we are cautious with our money. Most of the time. Yes, that part was directed at you. The Winterbournes, they are different. They think about the bottom line and keeping up appearances and stocks and investments. While we’re wondering which movie to see or what restaurant to try next, they’re thinking about closing deals and drawing up contracts and dodging the press. It’s a different game. It’s a different frame of mind.”

    “I never thought of it like that.”

    “Well you should,” Margaret said. “It will help you appreciate where they’re coming from. Charles was probably terrified of a helicopter flying over and photographing the two of you naked in the pool,” she laughed. “I would have opened the paper in the morning and seen your naked ass on page two!”

    “Page one!” said Helen and laughed too.

    “Blurred out, of course.”

    Helen smiled. “Digitized, I think they call it. Or is it pixelized?”

    “Tell me,” Margaret cleared her throat and leaned into Helen. “Would Paul have been worth photographing?”

    “Meg!” Helen paused and said, “Well, things were distorted under water. I was impressed, though”

    They laughed again and Margaret stood up. “Come on. This isn’t nearly enough. Let’s go down to Chelsea Grill. I’m in the mood for their grilled vegetables. We’ll forget all this Winterbourne business for now and have a good time now that you’re home.”

    “Ugh. I need comfort food today. I’m going to get the Blue Cheeseburger and a double order of fries.”

    “Oh, Helen. All that grease!” Margaret went to her bedroom and came back out with her brown leather purse. “You just wait until you’re thirty-five, like me, and you’ll find out that french fries are your enemy!”



  2. #2
    nom de plume
    Guest

    Re: Critique please?

    Gregory, i don't have time to read this but I've a quick comment based on the first paragraph. I suggest you do a Find on "was." It isn't a forbidden word but I suggest you try to minimize its use. At times, it's unavoidable but often rephrasing enhances eloquence.

    "It was Charles that looked pissed."
    how about
    "It was Charles who looked pissed."

  3. #3
    jayce
    Guest

    Re: Critique please?

    Charles looked pissed.

  4. #4
    Finnley Wren
    Guest

    Re: Critique please?

    I liked it. There is some overdescription, e.g. "heard the front door open, then close", "Helen nodded and went silent again." etc.

    At one point you say, "Helen ignored her" and then Helen immediately responds to Margaret. There's small stuff like that.

    If this isn't just an excersize, I wonder if it might not behoove you to simply stick to the plot of the original but change all the names. You might feel less of an obligation to be exactly true to the source material and thus make the story more your own. Doing something like that may also free your "voice."

    You can always globally change the names back later, if that's what you wanna do. I like where you're going, though. Best of luck!

  5. #5
    Brian Russell
    Guest

    Re: Critique please?

    I noticed a few grammatical problems. For example, in this line you go from present tense 'pulling' to past tense 'tossed' in the same sentence. I think it would read better with 'tossing'.

    "pulling her canvas purse strap over her head then tossed it onto the sofa. “Yes. It’s me.”"

  6. #6
    leslee
    Guest

    Re: Critique please?

    Just my opinion, feel free to ignore:

    "I am reworking E.M. Forster's HOWARD'S END (now in the public domain) and setting it in 2006 New York"

    What a fascinating idea! I never would have thought of doing something like this. I love the concept.

    The writing is going nicely. Suggestion:

    "Margaret studied her sister’s face for the truth. Twenty-four was still such an overly dramatic age; especially true for Helen. It was just a week ago that Helen had over-reacted when a waiter got her order wrong twice while Margaret’s arrived at the table perfectly. She was convinced there was something about her the waiter didn’t like; that an ex-lover of his was a brunette, like Helen, and now she was bearing the brunt of his heartache with an undercooked steak. “Now, Helen. They didn’t actually say that. Did they? Who said it? Tell me what happened!”"

    A paragraph like this could use some pruning. If it were mine, I'd probably do a first edit like this:

    Margaret studied her sister’s face. At twenty-four, Helen tended to be a bit dramatic. Just a week before, she over-reacted when a waiter got her order wrong. She was convinced that she resembled his ex-lover, and she was bearing the brunt of his heartache with an undercooked steak.

    “Now, Helen. They didn’t actually say that. Did they? Who said it? Tell me what happened!”

    See what I mean? Just a little tighter.

    But I like what you're doing and congratulate you on your ingenuity. It's most admirable.

  7. #7
    Busy Lizzy
    Guest

    Re: Critique please?

    I liked it too...reads really well.

    I didn't like the eyebrows curling ito one another. ???

    I didn't like the "scooting". (again:???)

    I didn't like the way they make their tea.You boil the water FIRST then add the teabags, or else you're going to get a really yucky brew.

    :-) Busy Lizzy

  8. #8
    Joe Zeff
    Guest

    Re: Critique please?

    This is not, by any means, the type of story that I'd normally want to read. This time, I kept going right through to the end, enjoying every bit of it. Very well done!

    Yes, of course there are issues; there always are, aren't there? Whatever you do, don't change the tone of the story wile tiding up the writing, because that's what kept me reading long enough to get interested in the situation itself. Your opening was spot on, and made me wonder what you were leading up to. (But that's partially because I was reading to critique; I don't know if the average reader would wonder or just keep going.) Once you got the two sisters together, you gave us the needed back story properly: by having Helen give the details to her sister, and the sister asking a few questions to check her understanding, and bring out things that it would have been awkward to have Helen say. The only possible glitch I saw was having Charles' age seemingly jump from 27 to 24, but I might have misread something.

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