Our competitors were tasked to write a story about weight loss, and boy howdy did they tear off some pounds. Let’s take a look at the stories first.
Joseph Devon starts us off with “Weightlessness.”
Lilith Morgan butters us up with “Rolls.”
Let’s see what our judges have to say.
Donald Jacob Uitvlugt is our first judge this week. Donald strives to write what he calls “haiku fiction,” stories that are small in scope but big on impact. Find out more about haiku fiction here. He welcomes comments at his blog http://haikufiction.blogspot.com or via Twitter @haikufictiondju).
I realize more and more how much the hiatus week makes me appreciate The Arena when it returns. And what a strong return we have this week.
The battle of the bulge weighs ever on the American mind. It’s hard for us to avoid it in this age of cheap food and overindulgence. Yet even weight loss needs to be taken in moderation, as the stories this week show.
As is my custom, I’m going to comment briefly on the two stories before moving on to my vote.
“Rolls” – I wasn’t at all sure what to expect from the title and I’m not a big fan of first-person point of view on principle, so I went into this story with my defenses up. And then I received what I thought was a parable about eating disorders and the cult of celebrity. Compelled by the voice of the narrator, I read on anyway.
Boy, can first impressions be wrong.
The parable aspect remains, but this is no after-school special! (Although wouldn’t they be more effective if after-school specials were like this? I sure think so.) As soon as Sylvie makes her wish, we descend into a world of ever-increasing madness. The end point we reach is, excuse the pun, delicious.
Very well done.
“Weightlessness” – This story highlights so many of Joseph’s strengths. The world creation, the laser-tight focus on a single character, the rich layers of conflict.
Ah, the conflict. Let’s count the levels of conflict in just a short span: we have the narrator versus the scientific community, the narrator versus the corporation that hires him, the narrator versus his environment since he’s trapped in the cryonic chamber, the narrator versus the space moths, and oh yeah — the narrator versus himself. Both in terms of his physical limits and his mental limits.
I like that this story didn’t go into full-on Aliens mode. The moths are a mystery beyond the narrator’s level to understand. Life is like that at times. If I have a complaint, it would be that I wish that there were more resolution to at least some of the tension.
Instead Joseph has given us a sequence of time, perfectly preserved in amber. We lie trapped with the narrator in his bunk, there to remain…
Two very different stories this week. Regular Arena readers know what I’m going to say at this point. Which story is more emotionally compelling to me as a reader? The tale of a weight-obsessed young woman descending into necrophagy and madness? Or the tale of an average man trying to escape physical torture into a world he doesn’t understand?
This week I vote for:
“Rolls” by Lilith Morgan.
“Rolls” – This story starts off very well. When Sylvie starts talking about herself and her horrible body image it’s uncomfortable. Just like it would be if someone was really telling you about this. The way she concentrates on her faults, real and imagined, and can only observe her “good” parts as they compare to her idol; it was hard to read, but in a good way.
The hair pulling and eyelash plucking as a distraction from eating seemed very real and I really thought we were in for a heart-wrenching true life story about one girl’s descent into anorexia when all of a sudden we veered left. Way left.
The dead body shows up and everything shifts. She is torn between worrying about the cops and being that close to what she considers a “perfect” body. I loved that interaction as she tried to figure out just what to do and couldn’t stop touching her. Then she notices the rolls…
The rest of the story was hard to read but for a completely different reason. More gut-wrenching than heart-wrenching for sure. The descriptions of the “things beneath her perfect skin” and how they tasted to her were disturbing, but in a good way.
I do find it amusing that after all she went through, she is probably healthier now than she was in the beginning. She has come to grips with her body image and has absorbed the perceived perfection of Juliette. Nothing can take that away now.
Very well done, but forgive me if I don’t reread it anymore.
“Weightlessness” – There is some excellent world building here that is done very subtly. The use of just the right mix of nicknames and vernacular without explaining anything makes the world seem real to me. We don’t need to know anymore than we are told.
I like that even in the world where humans are traveling the stars, there is still that idea that doctor’s can’t make up their minds on the right way to eat.
The switching back and forth between our hero’s descriptions of the past and the future work well to slowly reveal both. Especially when we learn that on this trip he was fattened up more than usual, as this comes into play in the present very soon.
I love that the main character’s optimism and determination obscure just how dire his situation is for most of the story. “Just a few more kilos” and we think he can get out. Just a few more, he’s almost there. It isn’t until the end when he starts saying that a “few more kilos” and his head will fit out that we realize just how screwed he is.
This was a very well done story and disturbing in its own way, though a more comfortable way.
This week’s competition was, as usual, very tough. I was all but convinced I was going to vote one way after the first readings, but then one story stuck with me. One story kept popping into my head and wouldn’t leave me alone no matter how much I wanted it to.
“Rolls” by Lilith Morgan gets my vote this week.
A unanimous decision! Lilith Morgan wins! Congratulations! If you liked this story, be sure to pick up her new book!
Let’s see if our voters agree.
Lilith has won the popular vote as well! And by a strong margin. This is no easy feat in the arena!. Congratulations Lilith!
Come back next week as Albert Berg takes on Ian C. Williams in a battle at the lake.