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Link Critiques 'What Once Was Lost' -- Chapter 1

Published by Link the Writer in the blog My First Internet Blog. Views: 164

Hello everyone! :D This is the first entry of what I hope to be an ongoing series where I critique books chapter by chapter and dissect what went wrong. For this first entry, I will look into a Christian book called What Once Was Lost by Kim Vogel Sawyer, published in 2013. Why did I read it? Because of curiosity and I stupidly thought it was a historical fiction.

The general gist of the plot revolves around mending yourself through God -- finding the strength to patch yourself up after a devastating loss and how God looks after the unwanted rejects of society.

With that said, let's take a look at this!

The story opens up in Brambleville, Kansas in 1890 where a prayer is just being wrapped up. The person leading the prayer is Christina Willems, leading the poor farm. The first thing she sees is an empty chair where her Papa used to sit. This is the description:

"Loneliness smote her, as familiar as the smooth maple tabletop beneath her folded hands. Would she ever adjust to her dear father's absence?"

...I don't even know where to start with this. She's clearly not gotten over her father's passing a year prior, so why would this description of the tabletop be relevant here? How does she feel? Overwhelmed by the amount of work she finds herself in? Bitter that for all their work, they're still struggling to get by? Point is, she isn't going to be thinking about the tabletop -- she's going to be thinking about that empty chair and the memories associated with it.

Sadly, this was just in the opening line. The book is drenched with purple prose and telling, rather than showing.

This poor farm/asylum is a place for the homeless and deprived to seek shelter, and their food consists of mainly pork and beans. The subsequent paragraphs reveal this place's actual name: The Brambleville Asylum for the Poor. There are thirteen people present:

#1- Miss Christina Willems, the owner

#2- Alice Deaton

#3- Francis Deaton, her kid

#4- Laura Deaton, Francis' sister

#5- Tommy Kilgore (ten years old and blind)

#6- Joe Alexander (seven years old)

#7- Florie Alexander (seven years old)

#8- Cora Jennings (a young woman)

#9- Lousia McLain

#10- Rose McLain

#11- Wes Duncan

#12- Herman Schwartz (an old man with arthritis)

#13- Harriet Schwartz (Herman's wife)

Thirteen people in an asylum for the poor. They eat pork and beans because these are the only food they can really afford to use. They had a hunter named Hamilton Dresden who provided them good game, but he was kicked out because he was getting frisky with Alice. Wait, somewhere in this scene Wes apparently had a shotgun, so that's how they're able to eat something other than bacon and beans seven days in a row.

...How long is she planning to take care of them? Can she even afford to care for them all??

And honestly, that's all we know from the first scene They're all in this asylum for the poor and they're eating the first decent meal in months. And Miss Willems is a devout Christian.

Slow start, but perhaps by the end of the story I will have grown to care about the orphanage and all the inhabitants within.


The next scene has Miss Willems being roused from her sleep by Tommy Kilgore later that evening. She figures that he needs to use the potty and tells him to go fetch Francis and have him walk the boy to the outhouse. Francis is nine and often doesn't want to do that (I wonder why?)

OK, brief note here: why? I get that this is the 1890s so all the stuff for the blind wasn't available back then, but this seems like a no-brainer problem that could've easily been solved on Day 1.

I want you to spend a few moments pondering this question: You're in an age before indoor plumbing and you're caring for a blind child. How are you going to get him/her to the outhouse when he/she needs it? If it were me, I would've fashioned a simple rope line -- tied to sticks and broken broomsticks -- that would go from the house to the outhouse and teach the child where this is. See? Took me maybe a few seconds to figure out that little quandary. Not like we're asking them to teach Tommy how to perform open heart surgery; just how do we get him to the bathroom without him (a) soiling himself and (b) having to rely on others to get him there. Secondly, wouldn't Tommy know roughly how to get to the outhouse by himself after the first few times? I know he's only ten, but I would think a blind person of any age would take special care to form a mental map on how to get to the place where he/she can answer Nature's call. Even if they don't do the rope thing, I assume the outhouse is still where it always is so Tommy should have a mental roadmap on how to get there.

But hey, what do I know? I went to a school for the deaf and blind, had blind friends, and am half-blind myself. What do I know? Blind people don't know how to get around without the sighted to help them? Duuuurrrr....

But we don't have time for Tommy's bathroom-related problems because the orphanage is on goddamned fire. Specifically, the kitchen is on fire.

A few things I want to note here:

This is how the passage described Tommy's urgency: "Urgency underscored Tommy's tone."

That's...wow. Nothing about Tommy jumping up and down in fright, jerking on her arm or whimpering in fright? We get things like hysteria rising in his pitch and volume and him sobbing as his body quivered but that's it?

Secondly, how did Tommy get there first? Wouldn't Cora logically be the first one to have gotten there? Did he wake her up first? If so, why didn't she raise the alarm? Why did he need to go get Miss Willems?

What follows is mass chaos as everyone tries to get the hell out of the Asylum. I'm going to pick now to check on the descriptions I found...interesting:

"Papa's silver watch, which hung on a chain around her neck, bounced painfully against her chest, and she paused to tuck it beneath the neck of her gown before proceeding."

The orphanage is on fire and she's worried about her dad's silver watch around her neck? I would think most people would just ignore the damned thing.

"Smoke created a murky curtain (...) Flames exploded behind the kitchen doorway, then attacked the wooden frame, taking on the appearance of dancing tongues. Would the floorboards catch fire and carry those hungry flames to the door?"

What's the imagery here? How does the fire attacking the frame correlate to the "hunger" thing I'm getting from this passage?

Everyone's finally out! Except an elderly couple, Harriet and Herman whose room was right next to the kitchen. The chapter ends with Wes, who is apparently slow in the head, obtaining the brilliant plan to run back into the flames to get them.

"He broke free and stumbled to the doorway with its dancing circle of fire."

"Exploded", "Attacked", "dancing tongues", "Hungry flames", "Dancing circle of fire". I'm not concerned with how the fire looks, I'm more concerned with why I don't feel the same panic and fear as everyone in this chapter feels. Yeah, this all sucks but I know little to nothing about any of these characters -- there's no reason for me to care about any of them.
Well that's it. That's Chapter One. Let me know how you all thought of it. If you've any tips on how to make it more interesting/entertaining, feel free to leave suggests in the comments below. :D I hope you enjoyed it.
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