Novel Thoughts: Ghost Light by Joseph O’Connor

Fluidity isn’t always necessary when it comes to fiction; in fact, sometimes it actually detracts from the story. However, in Joseph O’Connor’s Ghost Light the lack of fluidity makes the story inaccessible and its main character less than empathetic. At first.

Molly, as she calls herself, is ambiguous at best when the novel opens. We don’t learn anything about her or how she came to be in her current position until much later in the novel, and the absence of information creates a barrier between the reader and the one with whom they should be identifying. We are too infrequently informed of the time period with which we are dealing, so we don’t know how to relate to our protagonist or her circumstances.

Narrative voice in the story doesn’t quite help Molly’s case. O’Connor writes in second person for much of the novel, and instead of creating a bond between reader and protagonist, the technique only serves to make the reader feel disoriented and disconnected. Readers may find themselves wondering why they’ve been personally drawn into a story in which they have no firm footing.

Generally speaking, new characters are drawn into a story for some sort of effect. They somehow help to further the story, if only to make a suggestion about the future choices of the protagonist. In Ghost Light, these characters are haphazardly (or halfheartedly) written into the story; their presence isn’t explained, and they offer no resolution for any of the problems taking place therein. Take, for example, Molly’s daughter and son-in-law. She (or you, as O’Connor writes it) has obvious issues with her son-in-law, and there is reference made to an argument which, the reader can surmise, dealt with alcohol. Molly obviously has an affection for her family, but we are never told precisely why she is so distanced from them emotionally. Traveling is not within her means and is easily explained away, but the lack of communication stands apparent and important for both Molly and the reader.

No text is without some sort of redemption (I am ever the optimist), and Ghost Light is no different. Couched here and there within the wandering text is a poignant line, often when the reader is most in need of one. And eventually one does come to sympathize with Molly. Her everyday obstacles become more and more apparent and her struggles to overcome them more personal. We find ourselves cursing the obstacles along with her and chastising the people who place them there in the first place. By the end of the novel, Molly’s fate has become apparent to the reader, and it is with some difficulty that we relinquish our hold on her. Somehow, Molly has managed to endear herself to us in a way that provokes consideration.

In theory, Ghost Light tells a great story of a woman who overcame the odds and rose above the social position into which she was born. However, in practice, the techniques used to tell the story prohibit the reader from fully engaging with it.

Something Fun to Get Back In

The English language is fraught with its fair share of well-intentioned rules. In our attempts to make ourselves indisputably clear, we have created for this language a tangled, mangled web of instructions upon which even the most strict grammarians cannot agree. We have created substitutions and short cuts that, when properly used, create a mellifluous effect. But more often than not these words are improperly used, placed in awkward places within our speech and causing more confusion than they remedy.

If overworked people become unproductive if they are not provided breaks, can the same be said of our parts of speech? If we gave them a break, would they become more effective tools of communication for us? And to that end, what would, say, our pronouns do if we left them unattended? What would they look like if we refrained from imposing our grammatical laws on them and allowed them to let their hair down? What would they do with a night off?

Well…

He would sit on the couch waiting for her to finish “getting ready.” She would furiously text and tweet her friends while trying to decide which dress to wear, even though She knows He’s waiting.

They would meet up with Them at the corner bar. She would hope He wouldn’t embarrass her with his inane attempts at humor. He would hope She would refrain from dancing.

Who knows with Whom They would join before the night is finished. But they agree: the more the merrier.

I is by far the most popular with Everyone, and They wouldn’t be able to wait for Me to get There.

While it seems there’s potential for a fabulous night to be had by All, the pressing question remains:

What would You do with a night off and no limitations?

Fiction Friday: Tough Defense (The End)

Tough Defense Part 1

Tough Defense Part 2

Tough Defense Part 3

Tough Defense Part 4

In court the next morning, Charlotte successfully delivered her closing arguments. She did what she could to refrain from making eye contact with Lester, and the prosecution did their best to keep from making eye contact with her. While Charlotte grappled with her unease, Lester attempted to draw the prosecution into a staring match. To rattle them, he said when Charlotte noticed what he was doing. She might have put a stop to it with any other client, but she felt too scattered at the moment to say much more than, “Hmm.” Could she actually be a good enough lawyer to convince both judge and jury of an acquittal she knew would be a mistake? Her head throbbed.

When it was time for sentencing, Charlotte found herself violently (though silently) opposing Andre Lester’s acquittal. As the jury read the verdict (not guilty, just as she knew it would be), Charlotte’s glance met that of the judge. She was startled to find a look of concern, a look that said, “Get out. Get out now before you’re too involved, before he knows too much about you and you know too much about him. Just get out.” Clearly Lester was not new to this judge’s courtroom. Charlotte briefly exchanged congratulatory remarks with Lester and the other defense attorneys before retreating to the the exit. As she passed the prosecuting attorney, his eyes (finally) met hers. She recognized the sentiment she found there, one of sympathy, and she forced herself to break away before he recognized the dejection in her own.

“Oh, Ms. Malloy,” she heard Lester shout from the front of the courtroom. “I am grateful for your services. I look forward to working with you again in the near future.” The cat that ate the canary? Yes, he was.

“Just doing my job, Mr. Lester. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to the office to file the final paperwork.”

He leered after her as she left. Oh yes, he thought, as he attempted to shake a wrinkle out of his linen pants, he would be seeing her again soon. He had to.

* * *

Text only ©2011 Jessica Cocita. All Rights Reserved

Fiction Friday: Tough Defense Part 4

Tough Defense Part 1

Tough Defense Part 2

Tough Defense Part 3

Charlotte hustled herself out of the building that housed her office downtown. The southern sun beat down, and the humidity felt like a weight growing heavier on her chest. She clipped along to the parking garage.

“God, I gotta get out of here,” she thought, knowing full well that if he really wanted to know where she was going or what kind of car she drove, he could find out. He always seemed to be one step ahead of her, a characteristic that unnerved Charlotte in all clients, particularly clients of this ilk.

More than anything Charlotte just wanted to get out of there. Why is it that on the days she most needs to get away, the parking lot becomes an obstacle course, a maze with no exit? She drove around in circles a few more times and headed towards home. Andre Lester smiled through the office window at her effort.

“Where ya been, Sis? I been waitin’ for ya,” Kip said when she walked through the door. She had that silly spool of wire of the table in front of her, attempting, it seemed, to shape it into something artsy. She looked like she hadn’t been awake for too long.

“Did you just get up?” Charlotte asked. She was hoping whatever Kip had done that day would take her mind off her meeting with Lester.

“I been up since one. I’m an artist, not a bum.” Kip smiled through her feigned indignation. “Beauty doesn’t create itself, ya know.”

As Kip dove into the details of her day, Charlotte’s mind began to wander into tomorrow. She was confident that she had thoroughly memorized her arguments for tomorrow, including the parts she didn’t believe. That’s most of it, she thought, and shook her head. But what would happen to her afterwards? What would happen to Lester?

* * * *
To be continued…

Text only ©2011 Jessica Cocita. All Rights Reserved

Fiction Friday: Tough Defense Part 2

Tough Defense Part 1

“Good morning, counselors,” she lied, stepping into the conference room.

Stuart Chapman, the lead prosecutor, and his co-counsel stood to greet her.

“Don’t get up gentlemen. This meeting shouldn’t take long.”

“As you know, Ms. Malloy, our offer is very generous. We have clearly allowed more leniency than is due a client of this…kind.” Lance Rivers, the co-counsel, was the very picture of a legal parasite. He was too short for his attitude, and his face was drawn and pale. The hollows of his cheeks and the dark circles under his eyes lent him more ferocity than anything his dim intellect could have conjured.

All Charlotte could do was stare pointedly at Stuart. Why was the co-counsel doing all the talking?

“I’m very well aware of what you’ve offered my client,” Charlotte said. “But we’re not interested.”

At this, Stuart’s confidence flickered. She knew he’d not been expecting this from her.

“Now wait a minute, Charlotte,” he began. As quickly as he was caught off guard, he just as easily reassumed his composure. “Lester made that man disappear. He couldn’t pay up, and Lester, well, God only knows what Lester did with him ’cause now we can’t find him. You know as well as we do that this is a sweet deal for a guy like that.”

She cut him off, “Mr. Chapman, we have studied your offer extensively, and we find it unacceptable. End of story. What you see as a generous offer my client sees as patronizing injustice. I’m sorry, fellas. There will be no deal struck here today. See you in court.”

Before they could object, Charlotte retreated to her office. Small victories proudly won, she thought. She may not have a clue how she was going to defend her client, who was obviously very guilty of the crime of which he was accused, but she had won the first of what she hoped would be many small personal victories to come.

* * * *

To be continued…

Text only ©2011 Jessica Cocita. All Rights Reserved

Fiction Friday: Tough Defense Part 1

Charlotte sighed out the kitchen window. These moments in the morning were the only ones she could truly call her own. She studied the mother dove on the tree branch overreaching the deck. “If only,” she thought. She chugged the dregs from the coffee mug, took one last whiff of the fresh roses she’d cut, and slipped on her heels. The day stretched out before her, and Charlotte knew exactly what it held. It was going to be a long one. On her way out the back door, her heel caught in the spool of wire by the table. Oh Kip, she thought. Not another project.

This case had come to her in what she assumed was the usual way. Before the divorce six months ago, she never had need for cases like these. But come to her it had, and she was now the lead attorney on the case. Generally she found rhetoric thrilling; proving a point in court sent shivers down her spine. When she was with Darren, she had been able to pick and choose which cases to accept and which ones to hand down to the junior partners. She chose only the meatiest ones for herself. She would indulge herself in late nights of frantic research and early morning coffee-fueled client meetings because these things were intrinsic to who she was. And she was great at them. But this case. This was positively one for the junior lawyers, and now it was just Charlotte.

Kip had moved in with her shortly after the divorce. Not as a reaction to the split, but as one of those circumstances of cosmic import over which we seem to have no control. Ever since they were kids, Charlotte had been close to her sister, so when Kip arrived on her doorstep just days after Darren moved out, Charlotte really hadn’t been that surprised. She would never admit it to Kip, who took all sentiment as an invitation to make herself permanently at home, but Charlotte was glad for the company. In some ways, Charlotte envied Kip’s bohemian lifestyle (she’d never had that artistic wandering impulse herself), but most of the time it made her appreciate her stability. At least it had when she’d had it.

“Good morning, Charlotte,” the receptionist (was her name Elizabeth? Liz?) greeted her as she walked through the door. She mumbled something under her breath and darted over to her desk. Despite the fact that she had been at the firm for a few months, the names of the people in the office still managed to elude her. She would never admit it to anyone, but Charlotte saw her employment there as temporary, a stepping stone. It was a newer firm in one of the shining glass buildings downtown. Charlotte saw herself in one of the more established firms. She liked the heft of their name anchoring hers on her business cards, the clout they allowed her both in the courtroom and out of it. But news travels fast in the legal world, and what had happened between her and Darren had spread like wildfire. Charlotte couldn’t help reminding herself every now and then that there had been a time when she could have entered any law office in the city with her head held high. She would dole out condescending looks to lawyers at other firms as if to say, “It’s nice, your position here. At least it’s something.” At the time, her status as half of a power couple lent her a sense of entitlement. They had been featured in society magazines, every picture flawless, exuding success through the ink on the page. Little did everyone know that the relationship behind the perfect haircuts and the immaculate clothes was more porous than the paper on which their accolades were printed.

There is no time for this, Charlotte coaxed herself. Today was the day she would win. She had to.

* * * *

(To be continued…)

Text only ©2011 Jessica Cocita. All Rights Reserved.

Tell It Like It Is

People love a good story. We always have. We like to hear them, and we like to tell them. But what is it about telling our version of the story that makes it so exhilarating? Why do we expend the effort to tell the same tales over and over again? And why do certain aspects of the telling change each time we do it?

The oral tradition of storytelling has existed for, well, longer than I care to estimate. Storytelling, much like writing, gives us a way to make sense of things, to create order where we may not otherwise perceive it. In telling (or retelling) a story, we are preserving our own voice. We are maintaining the integrity of our perception of life and the people in it.

But what does storytelling do to truth? Sure, people make amazing storytellers. If we see that we have a captive audience, we bind ourselves to continue the telling, embellishing what can be embellished and omitting that which doesn’t work in our favor.

They say there are two sides to every story, but none of us will tell it the same way twice. How many people have a voice in any one story? What if we all have a side, and what if they are all different?

Fiction Friday: Small Victories

The call came in at the newspaper reporter’s desk late on a Sunday. Finally, he wanted to meet.

Stanley had been waiting all week for this. He had been relentless in his attempts to secure an interview with this guy, but to no avail. No problem, Stanley thought. When I finally get my day, he won’t know what hit him.

Now was his chance. He was going to get his story (and what a story it would be) independently. The days of being marshaled by the senior reporters were over. This was the story that would prove Stanley’s journalistic mettle.

“I’ll show them,” he thought to himself. “Now they’re gonna see what real reporting looks like.”

Stanley decided not to return the call immediately. He’d waited; now it was the other guy’s turn. Stanley could play this game for a week, longer if he had to. It made him feel powerful. The ball’s in his court. He’s holding all the cards.

Two days after his office received the call, Stanley decided the time had come. He picked up the phone receiver with dampened palms. Don’t blow this one, Stanley-boy.

Stanley dialed carefully so as not to reach a wrong number. He waited less than patiently as the phone rang once. Twice. A third time.

“Good morning,” said the female voice at the end of the line. Her sunny enthusiasm made Stanley cringe.

“Yeah, I’m trying to reach your manager about doing a grand-opening piece for the newspaper. I wanted to see if I could talk to your clown…”

“Uh, his name’s Ronald,” she returned.

“Yeah, whatever, when can I talk to him?”

“Let me check.” Stanley thought he could hear the gum smacking through the phone. His sense of cut-throat confidence wavered.

“Be here tomorrow around three,” she said after a few minutes.

“Three? That’s the soonest? You’ve gotta be kiddin’ me.” Stanley didn’t have time to wait. This story could be crucial to his future here at the paper, and he couldn’t afford to bungle it.

“We’ll see you then at three tomorrow?” she asked. She either didn’t hear his question or, more probably, was choosing to ignore it.

Stanley put the phone in the cradle and sat back in his chair. After the debacle that was the high school talent show story he really needed to redeem himself.

When Stanley arrived the next afternoon, he walked through the door of the shiny new McDonalds, and the smell of French fries slammed into him. Happy meal boxes littered the tables, and children ran amuk with their little plastic toys. Now this was what journalism, real journalism, was meant to feel like.

*This writing is based on a prompt provided by Writers Digest circa February 11, 2011. For more information on Fiction Friday, see the Fiction Friday page.

Text ©2011 Jessica Cocita. All Rights Reserved.