In a way all people who work are salesman. We are selling our time no matter what our occupation. Some are generous with what they sell, while others keep every precious moment for themselves. Our stories are about those silver tongued devils we call salesman. Whether they go door to door or you walk down the interesting back alleys to find them depends on which author you follow. Let’s take a look at the stories.
Joseph Breaks down the numbers with “Transactional Costs.”
Bethan Grills puts on the red light in “Forever.”
Let’s see what our judges have to say.
Cars, TV’s, vinyl siding, gadgets on late night infomercials, we are all familiar with salespeople and what they are trying to sell us and we all have a story to tell about an experience we had. This week the Arena asked for more than that. How did the authors hold up their end of the bargain? Let’s see.
“Forever” by Bethan Grylls – I don’t think we’ve had a story start off quite the way this one does. It was well written, though, and I liked the way it shows the two faces of our main character right off the bat. She, quite necessarily, has an outside personality and an internal one. This comes back up a couple times later on and this beginning is a great way to get it out there.
A flashback to set the details of “Lexi”‘s life and we get to the real story. What starts as a way to clear her head after a client the coffee shop becomes a regular retreat from her everyday life. Eric, the waiter there, becomes the closest thing she has to a friend outside of her “sales” job.
I thought we might be headed down the whole rescuing the sex worker path. I figured Eric would sell her on going straight to be with him and that she would see the errors of her ways and have her happily ever after. When Eric gets fired for what seemed to be a fairly innocent stunt she feels responsible. Seizing the opportunity he finally asks her out and she runs away in shame like the trope calls for. It all seemed to be headed down a well worn path. This is the Arena, though, and we don’t see too many happy endings.
Instead of Eric surprising her as the client the next day and telling her he didn’t care about what she did or what happened before he DOES surprise her but in a very unhappy way.
There was a lot I liked about this story. The coffee shop parts seem very authentic and natural. I especially enjoyed the far fetched stories made up for the passers by.
The only issue I had with the story was clarity. There were a couple parts I got tripped up on and had to reread another time or two so I could follow what was happening. One of those parts was the attempted break in. The flashback blends with the story too much and I had to sort out when each thing was happening. Minor problems though.
A strong entry and an interesting take on the salesman prompt.
“Transactional Costs” by Joseph Devon – I should know better, I have been doing this for long enough. The Arena asked for salesmen and while I wasn’t expecting Willy Loman I also didn’t expect spies and prostitutes.
From the very first line it was apparent that this wasn’t going to be a standard salesman story. I’ve been bothered by salespeople before but I don’t think any of them deserved the treatment dished out here.
The point of view in this story is perfect. Riding along with Roger in his cell we suffer along with him. No abuse, just the withholding of food and isolation. The days run into one another and soon he has no idea how long he has been there and neither do we. The unreliability of Roger as a narrator makes our perception fuzzy too.
I love the way we are shown the complete erosion of Roger. At the first meeting, he was confident and strong. Pretending he didn’t know anything about access codes he stuck to the script and the training and they got nothing from him. At the second meeting his confidence is gone, replaced by a somewhat shaky resolve. He says nothing, almost as if he doesn’t trust what would come out of his mouth. BY the third meeting he admits to knowing the codes and has begun what will become the negotiation of the story.
Fitzroy is fantastic. I don’t know who he is modeled after but the descriptions of him are wonderful. His appearance contrasts beautifully with both his actions and the cell in which our story takes place.
When we get to the part of the story where Fitzroy asks for Roger’s pinky finger it doesn’t seem out of place at all. We also know that Roger cannot avoid it. He could not live with himself if he gave up the codes to save a body part. At least not yet. By the end of the story, when Roger is seriously figuring out when the best time is to offer his foot in negotiation for food and time, it is simply the logical end of the path that started with the smell of french fries.
I had no real issues with this story outside of a couple of typos and an odd line about pork being safe to eat.
I’ve said it before but I will say it again and again, my favorite part of the Arena is the way that the authors manage to keep surprising me again and again. This week was no exception and I wish I could reward both authors for that. Unfortunately I have but one vote to give. This week that vote goes to the story that embraced the prompt fully in a most novel way. That story is “Transactional Costs” by Joseph Devon
There’s one vote for Joseph. Let’s see what Donald thinks.
Donald Jacob Uitvlugt is our second judge this week. On top of being the current TWA Champion, 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).
As a person who has spent more than his fair share of time in retail, I can attest that sales is hard. As long as there have been merchants, there have been stories about salesmen. Heck, one might even read the Serpent’s words in the Garden of Eden as the first sales pitch.
So I read this week’s prompt with great interest. So many different ways the stories could have gone. Let’s see what our combatants came up with. As is usual for me, I’m going to comment briefly on the two stories before moving on to my vote.
“Forever” – There are times where I thought this story shouldn’t work. The runaway who becomes a prostitute. The man infatuated with her to the point of violence. The madam who saves the young woman from the streets but traps her in a life she hates. These are all characters we’ve seen many times before.
Yet Marlee’s story pulls me in as a reader. There is a freshness in seeing this tale through her eyes. Her experiences feel real. Her emotions feel real. I think nothing exemplifies that more than when she laughs in the café for the first time in she can’t remember when.
The other characters aren’t as well drawn for my tastes, and I think that’s what lets me down in the ending. We’ve spent so much time in Marlee’s head that Eric’s (apparent) transformation made about as much sense to me as a reader as I’m sure it did to her. I think the ending could have been stronger if we had a better insight into what made Eric who he is.
But a very strong entry.
“Transactional Costs” – This story has a lot of the elements that I love about a Joseph Devon story. I find there to be a certain…sensuousness to Joe’s prose at its best, whether he’s describing a meal or torture. Roger’s mental image of a BLT might even be described as food porn. Joe’s writing at its best has this visceral quality that is freaking awesome, and there were a lot of passages like that here.
I didn’t mind that I didn’t know what the access codes were for or why Roger would defend them to such lengths. The power of the situation pulled me along; I don’t know as I could do nearly as well with an interrogation scenario. I do have to say that the setting did very much call to my mind the Babylon 5 episode “Intersections in Real Time,” where Captain Sheridan faces a similarly urbane interrogator. But perhaps such mind games are inherent in any such scenario.
I enjoy chilling twist of the ending, where Fitzroy has not broken Roger enough that he will reveal the codes but he will betray the code of ethics he had at the point of his capture. We may have a situation where there are no winners, only losers. There’s a dark power here that’s quite excellent.
Two excellent stories this week, both dark, although in different ways. I had my difficulties with both, but both had some excellent standout passages too. In the end, I have to cast my vote for the story that had the greatest emotional impact on me. For me, that story this week is:
“Forever,” by Bethan Grylls.
A split decision! That means it goes to you, our dear audience.
This week’s winner is Bethan Grylls! Congratulations Bethan! Joseph put out a strong effort but couldn’t quite sway that popular vote.
Be sure to check back next week as Albert Berg takes on Logan Nobel in a very animated battle.