Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Flash Fiction Week, Day 2

If you are encountering my blog for the first time, you should know that I hosted a short story contest with Simon Larter to commemorate our coincidental acquisitions of 100 followers (listen to me, I sound like a people farmer). Today, I’m posting the second of three second place winners: “Paris Was Good,” by Davin Malasarn. This time, I’ve posted my comments after the story.

Paris Was Good

Davin Malasarn
Paris was good, but it wasn’t real life for you or for her. You walked with her, hand in hand down the cobbled streets, poking into cheese shops and fruit markets and pâtisseries. You bought palm-sized oysters from the worker who blew kisses to her from his gloved hand. Once, you took the train to Italy because you wanted to see the beach. Then, in April, it was time to return to Sherman Oaks.

Directions for moving into a new apartment as a couple:

1. Find a living room that has a lot of light, big windows facing south.

2. Find hardwood floors, preferably cherrywood because that’s the only color you can agree on.

3. Frame the photograph you took, sitting together in your Paris loft in front of the foot-tall Christmas tree you decorated with Vittel water bottle caps and cut-out snowflakes.


—the rest of the furniture is ready; it has been sitting in your storage space all this time. Of course, there are two of everything, two sofas, two toaster ovens, two sets of dishes, two beds. You’re sad to see your own furniture go, but this is compromise, this is love.

At work, your desk has been waiting for you, just as cluttered as you left it six months ago. Dudley and Aimee seem to have missed you, but they also seem angry that you’ve been gone so long. You give them souvenirs: figurines of the gargoyles of Notre Dame, chocolates wrapped in colorful paper—This appeases them. You check in with your boss who is too busy to look up from her computer screen.

In Paris, everything else was so far away. Now, your ex sends you an email in elementary French.

Voulez vous manger chez moi?

Non, pardon, you reply.

Demain?

Non, désolé.

But you can’t put it off forever; your guilt is too strong. You meet at a diner and share fish and chips. You realize this is really over—that it actually never started. The next day she sends you a thank you note. She writes “mercy” instead of “merci”, “poison” instead of “poisson.”

May. June. July. August. Sepember. October. November. Time really does go by fast, just like everyone warned you it would. You see this ex about once a month, and each time is as equally strained as the others. In your new apartment you tell your lover you want a puppy, a small one that will sleep in the crook of your arm. When she asks if it wouldn’t be better to wait until you had a house you say, “I dreamt about Paris again last night.” It’s true, you’ve dreamt about it once a week since you came back. She kisses your forehead.

For Christmas, you get a small tree. You buy each other water bottels with red caps. You make snowflakes out of paper, but it doesn’t feel the same.

“But, what’s that?” she says, pointing to a box with holes punched into the sides, something scratching away inside.

“How long has the little guy been in there?” you ask.

“Since last Monday or Tuesday. I wanted it to be a surprise.”

Of course this is a joke. The puppy pops out with a bow around his neck. You name him Olivier, but somehow this turns to Oliver, sometimes Ollie. You take him on long walks where he sniffs every single rosebush you pass. You show him off to your friends, coupled friends, friends who invite you to box seats at the Hollywood bowl as a foursome.

By the following April, you’ve forgotten how to conjugate French verbs. You forget the pas after the ne. You wash your clothes at the laundromat where white-haired ladies whisper to you about which dryers get the hottest, and for some reason this delights you.

And then, one day, you realize that you think of the Sherman Oaks apartment as home. You are at work, staring at your computer screen, when you decide you want to share the rest of your life with this woman you have been living with for two years. You keep this to yourself, preparing for the announcement at some later date. Your dreams of Paris stop, replaced by long and peaceful sleep where you dream of nothing at all.

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You might have noticed right away that “Paris Was Good” was written with a second person point of view—this alone nabbed my attention at first. It’s just not a POV that is often done. To be honest, it was a brazen, risky thing to do. Second person POV, when attempted, is rarely done well, but I think Davin pulled it off as it reads very naturally—smoothly. It doesn’t feel jarring, even though he’s slipping the reader into the main character role.

The language of the piece is, of course, well done, but one of the most intriguing aspects of the story to me was the subtlety of the plot shift within the story, reflected in the language and the vivid, well-chosen imagery. We see a sharp contrast in the oysters and the fish and chips, the two settings, and even the gifts (again the oysters versus the puppy). But the best contrast, in my opinion was the shift in the use of the French language. 
She writes “mercy” instead of “merci”, “poison” instead of “poisson.”
Very clever, no? Ultimately, these contrasts in language and imagery portray a subtle deterioration of a romance—with a woman and with a place. It seems that the love of a character is dependent on the memory of a setting. Out of sight, and all that….

Overall, the story is poignant, bittersweet—real. It's a settling into life, not entirely sad (there's Ollie, of course), but certainly wistful.


Many thanks to you, Mr. Malasarn, for submitting your story to our contest. Well done all around. Please be sure to contact us with your address and choice of books (Lamott, Bradbury, or Maass) at carolsimoncontest AT gmail Dot com. If you are interested in five-page critique(s), those will also be available to you.


If you would like to see more of Davin Malasarn, please be sure to stop by his personal (science) blog, The Triplicate, and his group blog on writing, The Literary Lab.

Once again, thanks to all for your remarkable support.

20 comments:

  1. Oh these are all SO good. I mentioned on Simon's blog how amazed I am by the fact that you guys can pick only a few winners! The entries I've read so far are absolutely amazing. It's wonderful and humbling to see how much talent there is out there! Thank you for sharing :)

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  2. I really liked this! You guys had some hard work picking out the best! ;)

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  3. Another great entry! I'm enjoying reading the stories as you post them.

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  4. Wow, the best part of this contest has to be the close analysis of this story. Thank you very much for doing that! It's always very interesting to me to see how other's interpret a story. I'm honored to have been selected as the second second place. I was a bit worried this story would be far too straight-laced after reading all the banter between you and Simon! :)

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  5. Congratulations, Davin. :)

    I love second person and you did it well here. This was a joy to read.

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  6. Very, very clever! I loved this. Thanks so much for posting all of these wonderful stories. : )

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  7. Congrats, Davin! These stories are so fun to read!

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  8. Julie, you're spot on with your comment! It was so difficult. As much as I loved reading the stories, the judging was far more impossible than I thought it would be. I can't tell you how many times Simon and I hit a roadblock and thought we wouldn't be able to choose winning entries.

    Tiffany, it was near impossible. Truly.

    Melissa, yay! So glad!

    Davin, I'm so glad. Your story was quite brilliant. We very much enjoyed reading it. Thank you so much for your submission. It's a beautiful story.

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  9. Elle, :) Thanks for your comment, sweets!

    Anissa, you're so sweet.

    sarahjayne, I must agree! :)

    Kimberly, you are so welcome! It's been our pleasure. So glad you are enjoying them. Four more days of Flash Fiction Week ;)

    Lila, I agree!! Thanks for your comments, sweeties.

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  10. I would just like to say again how much I enjoyed as a reader being in the main character role. Second person is usually jarring but not here.

    I love the idea of Paris and know someday I'll go and maybe even get one of those palm-sized oysters!

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  11. what a beautiful snippet of a good life. At first I was taken aback by the POV, but then it just seemed to slip over me and fit. I think Davin did a wonderful job of telling a story but a sensational job of defining that transition we encounter when we begin a life with someone.
    Very nice.

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  12. Yvonne, I couldn't agree with you more. Davin did a remarkable job with it. Paris is beautiful. I hope to go back before too long. I didn't have any palm-sized oysters while I was there, though, so perhaps I'll put that on my to-do list ;) I hope you get there soon as well.

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  13. Courtney, well said! That's pretty much how I saw it, too--the transition. Can I just say you have a beautiful way with words? :)

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  14. Very clever. Very different. Very nice.

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  15. Great story - not easy to do "you" well!

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  16. The line saying that "You realize it was over--that it never actually started" is strong. So true in life as well as this story. I'm delighted to know about your contest. If you are not opposed to sharing news of another one, Writer Advice, www.writeradvice.com seeks flash fiction, memoir, and creative fiction that mesmerizes the reader in 750 words or less. Details, deadline, mailing address, and other guidelines are at www.writeradvice.com.

    Thanks!

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  17. Hey hon! I left you a prize on my blog!

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  18. Melanie and Jemi, thank you for your kind words ;) Sweeties, both of you.

    Lynn, thanks for stopping by and for the information. I'll be sure to check out writeradvice.com

    Anne, I adore you <3 Thank you, sweets.

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