May 10, 2010: Once upon a time there was a pair of ducks and they had a nest of eggs. When the eggs hatched, all of the ducklings were fine except one little duckling was kind of ugly and didn’t look at all like the other baby ducks.
Because he was so different the other ducks on the pond made fun of him all the time, so he ran away from home. One day he discovered some beautiful white birds, the most beautiful birds ever, and learned that they were called swans. They were all nice to him and welcoming, and when he saw his reflection he realized that he was a swan too, and he’d found his real family and place in the world. He lived happily ever after. THE END. You can skip the rest of the story or the review because you won’t learn anything of greater importance.
Good, that’s out of the way. In "Limp," the main character, Link, grew up with a limp because his legs aren’t the same length. He’s poor and doesn’t go to college, but he’s smart enough to land a job in the college library. He feels unpopular and gets picked on by the handsome jocks, but his job in the library leads to interest from Walt, the head of security, who wants Link’s skills in research to help him solve the mystery of a flasher going around campus. Then Link attracts Paige, a model-pretty girl who seems more open-minded than anyone else he’s ever met. She’s inviting him to dinner and sticking up for him against jocks, and encouraging him to stand up for himself.
Suddenly, Link’s life looks like it’s improving.
Too bad it’s totally unrealistic. In four chapters, Link suddenly has a girlfriend contemplating having sex with him, and a security guard giving him big responsibilities despite a lack of education or law enforcement experience. It doesn’t help the believability factor that Link was a suspect for the Flasher and just talking to the security guard changes his mind—not like anyone ever checks on alibis or does real investigating, right?
The theme of "awkward kid grows up cool" is standard in our culture, whether it’s the ugly duckling, Harry Potter or Peter Parker. If you’re going to use possibly the most over-used plot device in history, there should be a new twist and really clever writing involved. Unfortunately the conversations between Link and other people don’t seem to sound anything like real dialogue, but more like cliches out of short stories written in high school. I think my favourite was "Major Bitch Alert!"—a line delivered by a jock in a restaurant/bar when Paige ignores the popular guys for Link’s sake. Because that’s what a stereotypical jock would say when the pretty girl ignores him, right?
I feel like the writer is trying to twist the reader’s arm into being sympathetic for Link, and then being glad that he’s starting to find successes. Real sympathy for characters comes over time by describing their circumstances and showing their responses and emotions and actions. It’s by developing a relationship with the character through the text. Having it forced down your throat—the implication that if you don’t have sympathy, you’re just like the jocks—is a little heavy-handed. Good writing isn’t about telling people what to think, it’s about showing situations and characters, so that readers start having their own thoughts and emotions regarding the story.
In elementary school I actually was an ostracized nerd who overcame difficulties to change my life in high school and university—my own life story to some extent follows this classic story-arc. But that’s part of why I’m critical of "Limp"—I know first hand what it’s like to be in Link’s shoes, and none of the dialogue or description rings true. I don’t care if this protagonist is the next Peter Parker, emerging from nerd-dom to become a hero, or fight assassins in "Wanted," or wizards in "the Deathly Hallows." I won’t be reading further to find out because the "hero" and his humble beginnings come across as a caricature, and the writing style is so cliche and unrealistic. The new Quasimodo isn’t adding anything to the genre. And Link’s sudden turns of good fortune are as unrealistic as any old fairy tale.
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