This is first-rate prose. I am enamoured of the style. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Yesterday I saw Jamie Goodwin burst into flame.
He was just sitting on one of those cheap aluminum-back chairs we all have, eyes closed in the shade of Hester’s old RV, trying to get some relief from the heat, same as everyone else. I was checking the stock of coolers, seeing if any held even a bit of water left to siphon out, when Jamie let out a tiny gasp like he woke from a bad dream. If it was a bad dream he had, he woke to something worse, ’cause little glints of light popped and fizzed off him like the sparklers we used to wave around on Fourth of July. Smoke or steam or something else rose up, then Jamie’s eyes went cartoon-big and he turned into a fireball.
Jamie’s the fourth person to spontaneously combust this month. Two women burned last Wednesday, and old Tom Puddingpaw blazed the week prior. Before that, we averaged only one or two fireballs a month, but now it’s getting worse. And after Jamie burned, Ms. Crankshaw didn’t even cancel lessons like she normally did, as if coming to terms that folks fireballing was the new natural order of things.
“That’s another lesson in evolution. One day we’re apes, then we’re humans, now we’re fireballs.”
She didn’t really say that, but she might as well have.
At least Loud John and Rudy were there when Jamie burned, and they contained his cinders so it didn’t spread like when Quiet John caught flame. But I still saw the whole thing, and it still scared me, even if others pretend to somehow be getting used to it.
“I watched him die,” I tell my friends. “Jamie didn’t scream. I think he tried, since his mouth opened wide, but nothing came out except flames.”
“Why is this happening for no reason?” Ogre asks, though that question is rhetorical because he doesn’t expect an answer. His voice hitches and he overcompensates for it by yelling, “When’s it going to stop?”
That’s rhetorical too.
We’re not supposed to be outdoors because of the heat, but we’re wearing protection, and sometimes out in the desert is the only place we can talk without everyone else listening in.
“I told you we weren’t safe,” Liz says. “Ms. C.’s wrong or she’s lying to us. Anybody can fireball.”
“No one ever tells us the truth,” Tommy adds. “It’s stupid going to lessons if everyone shields us from what’s really happening. I mean, what’re we learning? Facts or make-believe?”
Me and Tommy and Liz and Ogre are shooting at sand lizards with a pair of slingshots. I oughta clarify we’d shoot at anything daring our range of rocks and marbles, but it was too hot for anything but lizards to come out under the sun.
“The adults don’t want us to know…” A red bandana covers half of Liz’s face, so her voice is muffled. “I think we’re all gonna die.”
I don’t know about you but I’m pretty picky when it comes to reading. Especially when I’m looking for fiction to read. Too many books and so little time—isn’t that how the saying goes? So you can imagine when it comes to novels. I mean, lots of time goes into reading one. Novels are a commitment. And I love commitment. I do. But not to just any Tom, Dick, or Harry.
So about five or so years ago, I decided I needed to be realistic about not being able to read EVERY published novel on the planet before I die. So I came up with my “3 Paragraph Test”—I’d use the first few paragraphs to test a book’s opening (the most important part) to see if its prose style, voice, etc. are up to my standards for that commitment.
I’ll even go a page or so…or, if I want to be fair and I can’t glean enough from the first few paragraphs, then I’ll go a whole first chapter, if it’s short.
So, I wanted to start sharing with you books that had beginnings I really like!—Ones that pulled me in and made me want to keep reading. Let me know what you think!
“It’s better to kill people at the end of their psychology. They have nothing left to offer themselves or the world.
Not that I should have been killing anyone just then. Having fed less than twenty hours ago I should have wakened slaked and mellow, indifferent to blood for at least a week. Instead I’d woken in a state of—-not to put too fine a point on it—complete fucking pandemonium. Voices in the head (repeating, God only knew why, ‘He lied in every word…He lied in every word’…), earthquake in the heart, Sartrean nausea in the soul—and thirst as I hadn’t felt in centuries. Not the domesticated version, to be fobbed off with a half-dozen pouches from the fridge. No. This was The Lash, old school, non-negotiable, the red
chorus that deafened the capillaries with its single moronic imperative: GET LIVING BLOOD NOW, OR DIE.”
– Glenn Duncan, By Blood We Live, 2014