Shark Week

Your nephew will consider these mysterious ways, and if they involve shark attacks, he’ll grow up an atheist. This was all before he knew about the ways and means committee. Before the church people came and recruited his entire family to build glass houses in Tegucigalpa. Before blow pops and slinkies and adult pool parties during which he and his sister would crawl onto rooves to listen. Before she died. It wasn’t because he’d obsessed over Jaws, watching it repeatedly, alone in the dark, sweaty popcorn ingested. She was terrified of sharks long before Jaws. Where do people go when they die, he’d blurted on the way to his swimming lessons. His mother turned the Carpenters song, Top of the World, up. He scrolled through the various sharks on his cell. Hammerheads. Shortfin Mako. Common Thresher. Waiting for Shark Week. Hoping for some next attack, any, especially involving kids. Today, when I swim, he thinks, I’m going to be an Angel Shark.

15 Comments

  1. Jonathan Cardew

    Robert!

    The EIC himself, the honcho, the bees knees.

    First of all: I love the title! You’re referring to a TV show, right? On National Geographic, or something? It’s amazing how fascinated by sharks we are–terrifying predators that literally live below the surface.

    Speaking about living below the surface, I love the way your micros broil with such an undercurrent of menace and meaning. “Shark Week” is a perfect example. I particularly like that brilliant narrative nod of “Before…”; this piece builds and builds until we arrive at a sublime, religious moment: “An Angel Shark.” Structurally so sharp!

    And then the language! Tegucigalpa, slinkies, thresher! I love the listing of sharks. And I particularly love this bit: “His mother turned the Carpenters song, Top of the World, up.” The awkwardness of “song,…., up” does something brilliant but I’m not sure what that something is (which I like).

    HOW ABOUTS:

    Drafts are drafts are drafts, but what’s next? Going to take this one any further? I actually think it is pretty much perfect, as is, but I think you could futz with it and see what else might happen. So, some how abouts.

    1. Ramp up the technicals? I love pieces that take me into very specific technical territory, and I wonder if you could make more of the shark species listing? Use it as a frame?

    2. Refrain is the game? As I mentioned before, I love your use of “Before…” a few times, and I wonder if you could run with this even more, i.e. a series of sentences or sentence parts beginning with “Before…” and then coming into land somewhere.

    VENUES:
    You’ve been in the submissions game for a long time, but here’s my offering: As I was reading this, I thought of Gone Lawn as a possible venue. I know they favor quirky and short. It feels like a good fit if you decide to send this one out.

    Cheers, my dears!

    –Jonathan

  2. Wilson Koewing

    Robert,

    Well if it isn’t the boss hog, the main man, the reason we’re here. The EIC.

    Dang, this is, for the most part a kind of air tight little gem, Robert. I QUITE like it.

    As much as it pains me, I will have to disagree with our British leader, General Cardwallis, on the title. For me it confuses matters a little too much, which kind of speaks to my only confusion about the piece. So, Jaws is mentioned and the Carpenters which leads me to believe this piece must be set in the 70s which is way before Shark Week existed. In fact, if it weren’t for Jaws, not only would shark week not exist, a healthy fear of sharks in humans might not. So I can’t abide it because I think it’s kind of insulting Jaws and it’s confusing the timeline for me.

    I just love the details in this piece. It has so much beautiful pain and its done so deftly. In my humble opinion, it needs a couple minor tweaks to make it just able to breathe under water.

    Two points of minor concern that relate back to the title:

    I wondered why it couldn’t be told by the nephew.

    When it reads “She was already terrified of sharks…” Something about that made it feel perspective-shifty or something where I wasn’t quite sure about the relationships and dynamics at play in this story.

    Which takes me back to why isn’t it the nephew telling the story? Or better yet, why is the uncle telling it?

    Best,
    Wilson

  3. Len Kuntz

    Hi Robert,

    Wow. Well this was packed with goodness. There’s so much to digest, that it requires slow, repeated readings. I love the sonics and the twists and turns, the way you’ve interwoven religion, death, the afterlife, with danger. The language is very potent. It felt like getting mowed down by a Gattling gun, and I mean that in the best way possible. I also love the title. It’s a definite grabber. Exceptional writing all around.

  4. Francine Witte

    So much going on in this micro. I love all the action with the sister and bam! before she died. That’s so wonderfully mysterious. All the sharkiness is very intriguing and there is such a 70’s kind of feel to this. Love it.

  5. Al Kratz

    Love this so much Robert. It’s like a perfect piece of pie. Like how can that much awesomeness fit on this one little plate. Right from that first sentence we know we’re in for a ride. The “your nephew” is a grabbing perspective. It puts the reader in a unique spot that I love is never completely answered but allows the reader to be participant and witness. He’ll grow up an atheist sounds like a threat. Like a shark fin heading their way. The “before the” repetition evokes a special time period. And then there’s this little twist in time. Scrolling the cell for sharks. Shark Week itself. It’s a really intriguing mix of time and the kind of piece you want to read over and over again to hear and feel how it’s working. I think this mixture of time is no accident from the head honcho EIC. I read it as a mixture of the uncle’s days and the nephews. A blend of experience. An inheritance if not somehow a shark attack itself but the kind you enjoy on screen, like the kid is here hoping for an attack especially involving kids.

  6. Kristin Bonilla

    Robert, this is a feast. The language pops in every sentence and I love the sensation of traveling between Tegucigalpa and blow pops and adult pool parties and and. Then that turn with: Before she died. I love where this lands at the end, but I had completely forgotten that we are reading from an adult pov and not the nephew. Which made me wonder why?

  7. Rogan

    Robert, what an opening, what a brilliant piece! “Rooves” is a great word. But I love all the detail and the way you weave background and foreground. It’s masterful.

  8. Jennifer Todhunter

    I am quite taken with the tipping point of “Before she died.” it is truly brilliant. I thought the intent of the first two lines could be clearer – I wasn’t entirely sure what I was meant to be taking away from these (but I could just be thick so ignore me if nobody else brings it up!). I thought it might be tighter as written from the “you” POV instead of the uncles, but maybe it just needs to be smoothed out between the before the died line and after. At any rate, I loved the pacing and the length and can’t wait to see how it ends up.

  9. Benjamin Niespodziany

    “Where do people go when they die, he’d blurted on the way to his swimming lessons.”

    Having death dancing with the aquatic here works so well! I feel like this question/juvenile curiosity is at the heart of this piece. Becoming so obsessed with an animal’s violence while loss looms in the distance – and finalizing it all with an ‘angel’ shark. It’s a dense micro that packs an emotional punch! Nicely done.

  10. Todd Clay Stuart

    Robert, I love the whole Shark theme and vibe here! My only complaints is I wish there was more of it!

    I mostly think the ways it’s written with the third person POV is the way to go here, so I might consider cutting the “your nephew” part of of this. This is his story, but you can still tell it in third person like you have here. Also, simplifying the number of people referred to will help clarify the antecedent of the pronouns.

    Strong work from you as always!

  11. David O'Connor

    Roberto! Beautiful, so tight and layered (put this in Askew!), it’s a slab of granite polished to mirror… so good.

  12. Wendy Oleson

    Robert, this is beautiful and wonderfully creepy. I’m so drawn to this line: “It wasn’t because he’d obsessed over Jaws, watching it repeatedly, alone in the dark, sweaty popcorn ingested.” It makes me believe its opposite, this idea that his obsession was to blame–the darkness, the sweat in the popcorn, the shame. People in glass houses in Tegucigalpa do not eat sweaty popcorn in the dark! The ways and means committee–i love that line, but I don’t know if it belongs–except as a follow up to “mysterious ways.” But it makes me put my politics hat on, and that takes me into a different place when I’d rather stick with the story. I love this.

  13. Martha Jackson Kaplan

    Sharks it is, Robert, as per our conversation! I love it, but I’m a little slow picking up on who’s speaking in the first line– though I seriously love the suggestion that the mysterious ways, if they involve shark attacks, will make the nephew an atheist! Would love a little more of that along with the marvelous listing of sharks. And then love “grooves” (oh look what siri did to ‘rooves’!) and the dead sister. I’m liking chewing on this one. Love love.

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