To: Jack Torrance
c/o The Overlook Hotel
333 E. Wonderview Ave
Estes Park, CO 80517
I’m flattered you asked me for notes on your new novel All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy. The cover letter you included with the manuscript—“HELP ME,” scrawled in red crayon over an old-timey photo of yourself in 1920s formal wear—was quite evocative. So never fear, I certainly intend to help you… become a better writer!
Incidentally, I’m sorry my reply has been delayed, but I only just received your package, as I spent the winter in sunny Florida. You should visit with Wendy and Danny next year. Just don’t spend too much time in Disney World or you and your wife will want to kill each other!
Let me start with the positives: The title All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy is catchy (at first). And I have to admit, it gains some resonance with repetition. More on that in a moment.
I also enjoyed the typeface.
Now, moving on to the critical notes, of which I have a few (but as always, feel free to take them or leave them!). Remember earlier how I said that some repetition can add resonance? Repetition, when used sparingly, is a literary device dating back to the Bible—think of King David’s lament for his slain son (“O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom!”). Another famous example is the opening of A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Notice that Dickens didn’t write, “It was the best of times, it was the best of times.” And—this is perhaps key to understanding Dickens’s genius—he didn’t keep writing that for another 500 pages.
So, to be completely honest, I feel that it’s possible that maybe some readers might perhaps find your novel a bit repetitive. Of course, some might not! I could be wrong—and really, aside from that, it’s great! Again, the typeface—courier? Bold choice!
On another positive note, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” is a punchy opening line. It makes me want to read more, and makes me wonder, “Who is this Jack? Who’s keeping him from playing?” (Probably the old ball and chain, am I right?)
This is minor, but I noticed a few typos. For instance, at various points on pages 144 through 148 and also on page 202, you wrote, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” And on page 308, it’s “All work and no play makes Jack a dull Jack.” If that one’s intentional, it provides a nice break from the preceding 307 pages, and the levity is a nice contrast to the monotony. Also, throughout the manuscript you switch between “All work and no play makes” and “All work and no play make,” which is jarring. Again, if this is intentional, it’s quite effective at provoking unease. And I will say your novel did provoke a deep, unsettling sensation of dread. So congratulations on eliciting what Edgar Allan Poe in his essay “The Philosophy of Composition” called “the unity of effect”!
Finally, on page 404, you wrote, “All work and no DEAR GOD PLEASE HELP ME THE OVERLOOK IS ALIVE IT IS TAKING OVER MY MIND IT IS TELLING ME TO DO HORRIBLE TERRIBLE AWFUL THINGS WENDY DANNY I AM SORRY.” Pretty sure you meant, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
Anyway, this is a great start. Really promising. That font! So don’t beat yourself up too much about my notes. Maybe sit back, have a drink or two, draw yourself a nice bath somewhere away from the family, and reflect on what I’ve written.
In any case, thanks for sending! And I hope you won’t mind repaying the favor: I’m still in the middle of revisions, but I’d love your thoughts on my latest work, The Signing, a feel-good memoir inspired by a book tour I went on with my wife and son. Something seems off, though… Maybe it’s just that a “funny ‘cause it’s true” account about the ups and downs of parenting is such a departure from my other work, but I keep thinking it could use a dark twist. If you’ve got any ideas, I’m all ears!
P.S. Not sure if you get TV reception up in the mountains, but have you been watching Carson lately? He’s absolutely slaying!