Inside Out by Sean P Ferguson from Warmed & Bound – review

October 6, 2011
By

reviewed by Stephen Blackmoore

Warmed and BoundReviews are tricky.

You’re balancing your subjectivity as a reader with the objectivity that the piece deserves. You have to separate them and view the whole for its quality, not just whether you liked it or not. It’s the way a food critic who can’t stand French cuisine can still appreciate a good boeuf bourguignon, and hate a crappy cheeseburger.

Too many reviews don’t make this distinction and they turn “I didn’t like this,” into “This sucks,” which is not only useless but doesn’t give the reader or the writer the respect they’re due.

If you’re going to say you don’t like something, say why you don’t like it. On the merits of the piece itself, on what you think it’s trying to do, what you think the writer’s intention is, whether you think it was a success or a failure.

As a general rule I don’t do reviews. They are, frankly, a pain in the ass. I don’t think I’m very good at them.

So with that in mind I have to say I didn’t care for “Inside Out” by Sean P Ferguson in the anthology Warmed and Bound.

“Inside Out” is a short story about celebrity, the sort that comes from notoriety, from being a victim, and the public’s insatiable need to keep making that person a victim, up to the point where the victim becomes complicit in his own victimhood.

As an allegory it’s fine, I suppose, though it feels like territory that’s been trod upon time and again. As a short story, though, it doesn’t work as well as it could.

It is essentially one scene split in half and filled with a flashback. It opens with the unnamed protagonist bleeding for his audience on reality television, literally, and ends with a twist that is, unfortunately, as uninteresting and aggravating as it is unexpected.

The flashback tells the story of how the protagonist came by his notoriety, the people who screwed him and screwed him over and his slow, unwilling journey to accepting what the world has made of him. It’s bleak, which is not a bad thing. I like bleak.

The problem is that it’s boring. Because so much of it is told in flashback the voice is a distant first person. We’re told it happened, rather than experiencing any of it. It’s that old chestnut show, don’t tell.

Though the twist in the final scene fits in with the message of the story, making the point of how false our new definition of celebrity really is, it also invalidates the beginning. Not telling the reader everything up front is an important writer’s tool, and done well it works great.

But this piece is so short, and the voice offers so little engagement with the character that instead of making it an interesting, revelatory ending, it just falls flat.

If “Inside Out” were longer, if it were given more time to breathe as a story I think it would have worked. Ferguson’s very clearly a talented writer. But as it is it’s too short to do more than offer the most cursory examination of the protagonist’s role in celebrity culture.

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3 Responses to Inside Out by Sean P Ferguson from Warmed & Bound – review

  1. Elizabeth on October 6, 2011 at 5:33 pm

    Well, and fairly, done. Thanks for not turning “I didn’t like this,” into “This sucks.” ;-)

  2. Sean P. Ferguson on October 10, 2011 at 10:17 am

    Stephen I called out all sorts of filth in your name when I read your review while at work on Friday. I shook my fist to the heavens and spit on a doodle that I labeled “Stephen Blackmoore,” where I circled the stick figure’s crotch-region and made a little caption highlighting that there were no genitals. I crawled around inside my wallet searching for a dollar so that I might hire your sister for a string of evenings where she would dance for me to “Lover I Don’t Have to Love,” wearing purple shiny tassels and a fig leaf with cartoon sticker of George W. Bush’s face. I deemed you a dullard and wrote you off with nary another thought.

    And then two minutes later the sting wore off and I re-read your review and my story. I see what you’re saying and can appreciate your point of view. And yes, I’ll even concur with some of it. There is, indeed a lot of telling, rather than showing. And maybe I’ll agree to the over-done topic of American celebrity. However I stand by that ending. So, on that, we’ll have to just agree to disagree. I thank you for opinion, and will carry it around with me in an attempt to become a better and stronger writer. I appreciate the time you took to read and write about my story, as it was a first for me, if memory serves (and most times it doesn’t, admittedly). I take back all of the horrible things I said in your name, the stick figure, and the bit about your sister. I also write reviews on the writing of others, and it’s hard out there for a gangster (or an under-appreciated, underpaid, under-educated journalist (read: I had a few extra bills laying around, started a Word Press account, and bought my own URL).

    Stay classy, Stephen, and again, thank you. You’re doing the Lord’s work, even if what you had to say about my words weren’t laid with gold and virgins plotting sexy things against the dust on my wang. You’re a good good man.

  3. Jimmy M.F. Pudge on October 10, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    Wow, baby. Reading your review was tricky. Just get to the damned point the next time you write one.