Would you turn the page?

Here’s one of those interesting “Flogging the Pro” posts at Writer Unboxed: Would you turn the page of this bestseller if you didn’t know the name of the author?

Here’s the the page:

U.S. Open September 1994

My entire life’s work rests on the outcome of this match.

My father, Javier, and I sit front row center at Flushing Meadows, the sidelines just out of reach. The linesmen stand with their arms behind their backs on either side of the court. Straight in front of us, the umpire presides over the crowd high in his chair. The ball girls crouch low, ready to sprint at a moment’s notice.

This is the third set. Nicki Chan took the first, and Ingrid Cortez squeaked out the second. This last one will determine the winner.

My father and I watch—along with the twenty thousand others in the stadium—as Nicki Chan approaches the baseline. She bends her knees and steadies herself. Then she rises onto her toes, tosses the ball in the air, and with a snap of her wrist sends a blistering serve at 126 miles per hour toward Ingrid Cortez’s backhand.

Cortez returns it with startling power. It falls just inside the line. Nicki isn’t able to get to it. Point Cortez.

I let my eyes close and exhale.

“Cuidado. The cameras are watching our reactions,” my father says through gritted teeth. He’s wearing one of his many panama hats, his curly silver hair creeping out the back.

What do you think? You can click through and vote, by the way.

My instant reaction: Oh, sports, not interested.

My second reaction: Well, for something involving sports, this author is doing a good job getting me to be interested.

It’s not the first sentence, though that’s a good first sentence. That alone isn’t enough to overcome my utter lack of interest in sports. I’m so disinterested that I’m not even sure what sport this is. Tennis? Maybe tennis. I don’t care. However, I start to be drawn in at “I let my eyes close and exhale.” This person’s reactions are starting to interest me. The father’s reprimand, “Cuidado. The cameras are watching” — that’s good. That’s starting to set up not only tension, but also the relationship between the protagonist and the father. I could care less about the game, but I’m at least somewhat interested in the people.

My conclusion: yes, I’d turn the page. Let me click through and vote … ah, I’m in the minority! Two-thirds of the votes are for not turning the page. Ray Ramey, the guy who does these posts, also votes no. That’s interesting! Why does he give this page a thumbs-down?

And then there’s one of my pet peeves, someone saying something with their teeth gritted. Have you ever tried to do that? It isn’t natural and is very difficult to do. Also, what about this sentence:

I let my eyes close and exhale.

Her eyes are exhaling?

Oh, that’s funny! I didn’t have a problem with either of those sentences. How about you? Is that a pet peeve for anyone else? I think you CAN speak with gritted teeth! I just tried it and it seemed to work for me. Also, it’s an expression that just doesn’t rub me the wrong way, whether it’s read literally or not. In the same category, I have no problem with “he hissed” even if there are no sibilants in the spoken sentence.

Also, I read that as “I [let my eyes close] and [exhale].” That’s fine, no comma needed, nothing wrong with the syntax, but I agree, now that Ramey criticized it, sure, I’d revise it. “I exhale, letting my eyes close” would be fine and avoid any risk that someone would read it as “I let my eyes [close and exhale].”

Ramey also critiques the tennis. Yes, okay, so it was tennis. I’m sure that was obvious. As far as I could tell, it could have been racquetball or maybe some other sport I have just forgotten about because I don’t care. As you can see, this is among the bottom ten of all things I would ever critique. Obviously I know so little about sports that the author can make any number of egregious errors having to do with sports and I’ll never notice.

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4 thoughts on “Would you turn the page?”

  1. That line about gritted teeth works for me because my mother, when exasperated or angry, speaks with her teeth gritted. It’s very tension-inducing in everyone around her.
    I most likely wouldn’t read very much farther than this simply because I am indifferent to sports, but you’re right, the author has done a very good job making me care about the characters right up front.

  2. I wasn’t sure it was tennis until I read through the clues a second time. I think that could have been done better, but then maybe I’m not part of the author’s intended audience (assuming, broadly and probably incorrectly, that’s people who watch/follow tennis).

    Also the stakes could be clearer. The first line isn’t enough. It’s almost like starting with action and cutting to backstory.

  3. I love sports stories, and I love tennis- in fact we went to the US Open this year. Even if I know nothing about the sport, it can be riveting to read about- especially if there are family dynamics involved, as there are in Mike Lupica’s QB 1 or John Feinstein’s The Prodigy. I am also following Arch Manning for a glimpse at real life family dynamics even though I know nothing about football. As for Taylor Jenkins Reid, I read Daisy Jones and the Six, and My One True Loves, and am just not sure about this one. Maybe there’s a little too much angst in her books for me. I would have turned the page, until I found out she was the author.

  4. Actually, I think Taylor Jenkins Reid brings the angst but there’s just not that much depth to her books. For me.

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