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"In the beginning…was the kiss" by Alan Dwight

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New short story posted here:  http://www.awesomedude.com/alan_dwight/in-the-beginning/in-the-beginning.htm

It is a gratifying story which reached a better ending than I had anticipated from the way it was developing.  Worth a read.

My one overall comment is this, however:  I did NOT find the alternating first-person viewpoints of Gary and Mitch to be particularly satisfying in conveying the story.  It seemed contrived and unnecessary, as there was no discernible difference in "voice" between the characters, and no hidden elements lurked on either side that made the shifting viewpoints essential to the story.  In other words, no real surprises emerged from either viewpoint -- their reactions to events and issues were fairly predictable even without an inside look at their individual ways of thinking -- and the shifts just made things slightly more confusing for the reader in keeping track of who "I" and "he" represented. 




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I agree with @Rutabaga comments, I thought the story was a fantasy and way, way, removed from reality, even the sex was difficult to imagine and the kiss even more so. Nobody just kisses another boy in the toilets, not unless you have some sort of death wish. Given how insecure teenagers are about themselves, well, I skipped through it, sorry, but I got nothing from it other than the sexy picture for the cover. And, you know, that picture kind of sums it up, the teenage fantasy or the fantasy about teens! It was an essay, there were no personalities, it didn't read like any teenagers I know.

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I want to make clear that my critique was only as to the ping-pong shift of first person viewpoints between the two principal characters in the story.  As a technique I felt this approach was not well-suited to the dynamic of the story, because there were no real surprises lurking in the brains of each opposing character once we got to look inside.  

In other words, if character A is the current POV character, and says something to character B that causes character B to scowl, and character A reports to the reader that he sees character B scowling, the obvious inference is that whatever character A said to character B caused some negative reaction in character B.  The nature of that reaction can be inferred from the words used by character A.  It adds nothing of real consequence to then switch to the viewpoint of character B, have character B hear the statement by character A, and then have character B tell the reader that this statement causes some kind of concern.  We already get that.  True, the reader may get an inside look at the precise reason this statement caused concern for character B, but knowing that information is very often not necessary to the reader's overall understanding of the story.  Stated another way, the unfolding of the story generally includes an unfolding of the reason for a character's concern, and will typically center (in this example) on character A's efforts to decipher what's going on.

If an author wants to use a Rashomon-like approach to telling a story, presenting it from different viewpoints, I think it takes a good measure of skill, and I think it needs to be strongly justified by some aspect of the story that could not be revealed in a conventional narrative based on one character's point of view.   To work well, in my opinion, the shifting viewpoints need to have clear and unmistakable differences in "voice" and attitude, such that a reader knows instantly when reading a passage which of the characters is narrating.  Otherwise the reader wastes time trying to figure out which person is talking at a given moment.  And I think that there needs to be something unexpected and crucial in the brain of a second character -- something that makes a fundamental difference to the story -- that the first character (and the world) would not otherwise know about, and that a reader needs to know about right then (rather than discovering it later). 

For an example of multiple first-person viewpoints that worked more effectively in my view, see https://www.nifty.org/nifty/gay/young-friends/puppy-love.  Significantly, these were three separate and continuous narrations of the same series of events -- more genuinely Rashomon-like -- and not the ping-pong style of hopping between to characters in the course of the events.  But I thought there was some value in the multiple viewpoints because we learned some unexpected things about the characters that way . . . it wasn't all predictable.

Having said all that, however, I enjoyed this story and don't want to leave a negative impression overall.  As far as verisimilitude -- the concept that the story was "removed from reality" -- I think we readers need to cooperate with the author in accepting the premises for the sake of the story.  Alfred Hitchcock once said, "What is drama but life with the dull parts taken out?"  From the standpoint of the laws of physics, Mitch could have kissed Gary in the restroom.  In other words, we are not asked to abandon the world we know, as we would if Mitch had, say, magically levitated three feet off the ground in the restroom.  Thus, while Mitch's action may be unexpected and even unlikely, it does not require disregard of our understanding of the natural world.  Similarly, although the father's evolution in thinking was surprising (to me at least), it certainly was not beyond the realm of actual possibility.  I'm OK with it and glad for the outcome.   If not, I would never be able to read any of the stories by Grant Bentley.   

And, by the way, I definitely approve of the cover picture.


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Alan is definitely one of my favorite AD authors and I thoroughly enjoyed the story. I had no problem with the ping-pong style; however, in Reader View on a smartphone, the individual sections don't stand out from each other and so it's easy to miss the change in viewpoint. A separator such as a series of dashes would have helped here but is not essential to the story. Although the kiss seems highly improbable, it was believable and it worked as a premise for the story. The mother barging in was shocking for a variety of reasons. It's one thing to have a rule against closed doors, but another to barge in on a teen who literally might be jerking off. Also, although no parent wants to think of their kids having sex, why was she so shocked after just discussing the possibility of her son developing a relationship with his gay friend? Maybe she is that naïve, but her reaction seemed out of character compared to her nature the previous night. I'm also surprised she allowed the two boys to share a bed while the father got his act together. Even if she was accepting, most parents I know of wouldn't allow their son and son's boyfriends to share a bed every night. Not to nitpick, though - it was a thoroughly enjoyable story.

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If we're to throw out the kiss as improbable, then we have to use that rule for anything unlikely to happen, and there goes a whole slew of drama.  I can easily see one boy obsessing on another from afar, and the feelings growing over time to almost uncontrollable proportions.  I think we can all imagine that.  And we can imagine he's received some sort of emanations from the kissable boy that tell him this is a risk that might backfire but might not, too.  So, addled boy, seeing his chance, strikes!

The only thing that I can see that might have made this more acceptable to some would have been to have been given some sort of background to support the action.  But, doing that would have made the kiss more probable and taken away some of the shock value that made us keep reading.  This sort of thing has to be left up to the author, who will have weighed the way he wanted the story to start, thought of many ways to do it, and decided on this.  There's no way I'd fault him for this choice.


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