What I gleaned about the story: Sophie Cortez has had a difficult lunch break. Despite the strong laws constraining childbirth, she’s just discovered that she’s pregnant and cannot afford the license. Will her baby be taken from her and sent to a labor camp? Poor baby. Poor Sophie. Wherever will she go? Whatever will she do?
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Analysis: Our protagonist, Sophie, has just sat down with the clinic nurse and thanked the woman for seeing her on such short notice. Sophie says she’s feeling run down and could the nurse maybe prescribe her some vitamins or something. Here’s the nurse’s response:
She gazed at Sophie for a moment in silence, and looked down at the paperwork in her hands, the results of the blood they had just drawn. “It hasn’t occurred to you that you might be pregnant?”
What? When exactly did the blood get drawn? Before she sat down and thanked the woman for the quick appointment? That hardly seems like a natural human interaction. It would mean that they had spent ten minutes together for the relatively intimate process of drawing blood and hadn’t even greeted each other until it was all over. And what kind of lab processes blood tests between “hello” and “thank you for seeing me”? Sure, the nurse herself might have applied some basic on-the-spot chemistry, but again, between “hello” and “thank you”?
I can’t find any way to make sense of the timing here, and struggling with basic cause, duration, and effect is a clear immersion bust.
Analysis: After learning she’s pregnant, Sophie asks the nurse what will happen if she decides to carry the baby to term. The nurse begins her reply with, “You know the consequences as well as I do,” and if it had been left at that, everything would have been fine, but the nurse kept talking, explaining all the hideous laws and limitations their society attaches to unlicensed childbirth. And yes, from Sophie’s tension even before the explanation, it was clear that she most definitely did already know the consequences.
This is a classic case of what is sometimes called the “As you know, Jim” exposition dump—one character explaining a commonly understood aspect of their shared world to the other, even though neither one of them needs it explained. This is clearly for the benefit of the reader, but when you think about it, it’s completely bizarre and unnatural behavior for both characters: the one who says it and the one who blithely accepts it.
It would be the same as me interrupting a conversation with a friend to say, “As you know, Frank, electricity comes from the hydro-electric dam on the river north of town and flows through copper wires to that bulb on the ceiling…” Frank would think I was a lunatic for explaining something so basic to our existence. At the very least, he would be insulted that I should think him unclear on the subject. So the fact that the nurse says it here is one problem, and the fact that Sophie doesn’t react to the impromptu lecture is another.
Exacerbating this case even further, the nurse’s description sounds like dialogue that should be in the mouth of a trial lawyer discussing the case with a legal intern:
“An unlawful pregnancy is a class C felony, punishable by a fine – much larger than the cost of the permit, which is quite large anyway – possible imprisonment, and if the termination is not completed voluntarily, confiscation of the child once born.”
Does this sound like a nurse talking to a patient? With both the unnecessary lecture and the unnatural speaking style, this exchange ripped me entirely out of my immersive bubble.
Analysis: As Sophie leaves the clinic, we see the geography of her walk back to work. It’s a typical urban setting and the narrator is describing the things Sophie can see. After telling us about a man playing flute on the street, we get a sentence that begins: Farther on from an open second-floor apartment window... Primed with this, my mental eye has danced further up the street from that window and is now waiting to be told what I see there.
But then the sentence continues with: came the strains of electronic blues played on a synesthesizer. What? Now I’ve got a mental picture of blues music walking toward me on the sidewalk. Not a blues musician. Blues music. That can’t be right. This is when I realized that I’d misparsed the text. The music was coming from that open window, and the comma that would have prevented my misread was MIA.
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