Sample Critique

Stuart:

“Pet Milk” is fun to read. The two things I like most about it are:

1) The details you use to describe the scenes and the way you connect those details to the character. Because you use so many good details—the grandmother’s tuning the radio to “the staticy right end of the dial” where “all the incompatible states of Europe were pressed together,” the signs and flags and buildings he remembers while he and Kate are fooling around on the train—it is easy to imagine the setting, and it is easy to understand why the setting is so important to the narrator.

2) The way you move the narrative through time. It begins in the present (“Today I’ve been drinking instant coffee and Pet milk . . .”), then jumps backwards in time to when the narrator’s grandmother drank coffee with Pet milk, then forward to the time when he and his girlfriend used to drink King Alphonses (which look kind of like coffee with Pet milk), and after most of the story takes place in that setting, moves backwards once more by using the “landscape of the El” that he has “memorized from subway windows over a lifetime of rides” to get him back to the point where he remembers being high-school-aged and waiting for a train.

I liked this story so much that it’s hard for me to find things I think need work, but because I have to, here are two:

1) What happened to Kate? I like stories to have very few loose ends, so it did make me wonder when the story finishes with them together, but there are so many hints that they break up: “It was the first time I’d ever had the feeling of missing someone I was still with,” “I knew I’d never meet anyone more beautiful to me.” I guess it would be hard to fit in the fact that they are not together, but, like I said before, I have to find two things that need work!

2) There maybe a few too many details. I got confused at first when there was so much going on with the grandma. Those details are very vivid, so I thought the story was going to be about her, or that she was going to reappear. I love how you move the narrator through time—coffee today, grandma’s coffee, King Alphonse—but maybe there should be a little less of grandma?

This was a lot of fun to read. I’m looking forward to seeing your third person story.

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