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Racine

Racine

First 1459 words of a metafictional novella set in Italy in the 80's. A dark comedy about an orphan Racine and his nemesis Roberto.

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Literary fiction


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Dreyfus (Australia)


Racine

Racine was born to a prostitute without the benefit of ceremony or sanitation in Portici, a town to the south of Naples, Italy, and at the very foot of Mount Vesuvius. A midwife was summoned and amidst the grunting, screaming and expletives that followed a child was produced; that much we know. Following the angry labour, the woman without so much as the offer of a comforting breast (or a name, this came later), gave him up to a catholic orphanage. If this was an early comment on his character, it is lost to history.
There is little of note in regard to the populous, bay-side town of Portici and it is certainly not exceptional for its infestation of crime gangs into the nooks and crannies of its mean little streets. It is a town in which a visitor is ill-advised to roam unaccompanied. The entire region of Campania has been, for several hundred years, a veritable nest of that ugliest and most poisonous of spiders, the Camorra. You can stroll from the orphanage gates and take a right turn off the Viale Leone to stand on the Via Aldo Moro which, without an adequate reason, becomes Via Alveo, for a passable view to the North East of the partially destroyed Mount Vesuvius and its more comely sister Mount Somma. To the South West, you would be delighted by the view of the headland of Sorrento pointing a crooked finger rather alarmingly at the tiny island of Capri, indolently floating in the placid waters of the Bay of Naples.
Consisting of convent and orphanage, Santa Annunzia was known, among other things, for its wheeled infant delivery system. It is to be assumed the minuscule Racine was placed into the revolving basket and turned, thereby appearing within the convent courtyard, where nuns received, baptised and registered the new addition. Yes, they did get around to feeding the bawling bambino as well.
The infant whined and bleated for a full year, according to his medical records, as a result of incessant coughing, jaundice, abdominal distension and colic. He spent more time in hospital than at the orphanage; eventually recovering enough to take his place within the infant’s dormitory. My research has uncovered a snippet from that salacious local newspaper La Caldera which had the temerity to chronicle it as follows - ‘I dormitory Dickensiane dell’orfanotroforio da inferno’. Describing it as the dormitory from hell was a bit much, even for that rag, but I have no evidence to dispute its accuracy in this regard.
Eventually, Racine received his distinguished appellation. Until his first anniversary he was known by the irritated nuns as ‘Uomo Infelice’, which I might add, is not something you’d want to be known by. A young novitiate by the name of Sister Lunetta was responsible for the eventual naming. Clearly an aficionado of French literature! I was a tad confused at first, being under the impression that the works of Jean Racine were of a somewhat unholy nature. To be clear - if it is not already obvious - I am not a critic but a mere mortal. As it turned out, I personally would much rather have met, in due course, the namer and not the named.
Racine grew up in the care of nuns, whose experience of motherly tenderness was limited, to say the least. Apart from the aforementioned Lunetta and one other old lady, they neither spared the rod nor any emotion that may be confused with compassion. They believed their holy duty was to set the behaviour bar high for the urchins and none cleared its precarious heights unscathed, least of all our eponymous hero. Canes, belts, rulers, books, both soft and hard bound and, when not in possession of these implements, a vicious swipe of the hand were the weapons of choice. To my knowledge the Holy Bible was not used for the purpose of punishment; perhaps for the execration of the soul but not of the body.
Outdoor activities were confined to the courtyard and upon reaching school age, a severely corralled short walk across a dank and fetid lane to the school next door. When launched upon this brief journey, if one raised one’s eyes to the heavens, which appeared to be the only unbridled action permitted inside or outside the orphanage, one could snatch a glimpse above the tenements and washing lines, of the ever smoking Vesuvius.
This great pyramid of fire and brimstone was oft sited by the black clad ladies in Christ, as a final destination for unruly boys. The boys, however, viewed it as a symbol of freedom, for anywhere other than the hell they were already in could only be an improvement. To the young Racine it seemed that this alluring, angry tower was just at the end of the street, and at night his dreams were laden with portents of an imagined life. His nightly repose was populated with smoking mountains, the strange man who lived in the clouds and a winged mother dressed all in white to show the way; all beyond the high walls of the orphanage and the crumbling tenements of the neighbourhood.
Incidentally, the reader may be interested to know that in Neapolitan dialect, Vesuvius is sometimes referred to as Torre Nunziata, which is also a town at its foot. My rough translation would be - don’t fuck with me or I will erupt and kill you all. Excuse me; I am distracting you from the tale. You could leave but you would be missing some of the very good bits, yet to emerge. The lofty peak above the orphanage necessarily became the magic that filled Racine’s small life, so that in his dreams he might sprout wings and fly to the holy mountain and beyond. He was a boy with a talent for imagination and possessed a good brain, as yet raw and untutored, awaiting lessons not currently available.
The orphanage courtyard was a place of terror for those boys who disported a deficit of manly attributes. The daily one hour release to this Golgotha was designed for the sorting of men from boys. It fitted perfectly with the philosophy of the ‘Holy Order of Abnegation’, to which the nuns adhered. The one time when the vulnerable were at their most susceptible went completely unchaperoned. Following their meagre lunch the boys would be herded to the bare courtyard and locked in. One or two dark robed wardens would then retire to the balconies above to view but not intervene in any number of gladiatorial depravities and unadulterated cruelties perpetrated below.
Some of these toughs had vengeance in mind for one slight or other and there were those engaged in bullying for sheer sport. This was their only physical exercise and there were those who took to it with terrible glee. Racine was subjected to a regimen of regular abuse from a boy by the name of Roberto and his minions. At the time of the event I am about to describe, Roberto was aged about fifteen. It could be said of him that he was pleasant looking and in possession of a quiet nature, but he had a nasty streak unsurpassed during Racine’s stay at the orphanage. Roberto was also in receipt of a physical disability. His right leg was shorter than the left by approximately twenty five millimetres, which caused him to develop an odd sideways limp. It would not have been much trouble for the nuns to provide a prosthetic for the boy, but they were not about to blot their pristine copybook of neglect. It was said of Roberto that his easy, albeit slightly crooked smile and dark, glistening eyes could collapse into a serpentine leer at the drop of a hat; his awkward gait only enhanced his menacing presence.
The worst of Racine’s torments began one lunch time when he was about ten years old. He suffered the impact of a stone just above his left eye as he stood cowering in a corner of the courtyard with the vain hope that a minimum of misfortunes would befall him. Racine reeled with the shock of the blow and endeavoured, through the blood mingling with his tears to find the source of his pain. Roberto standing not five metres away received a high five from a buck toothed idiot on his left while the Neanderthal to his right handed him another stone.
‘Bastardo,’ Racine screamed.
It goes without saying that the use of this particular word was inadvisable in an orphanage. This indiscreet utterance from our hapless little orphan resulted in, not the launching of another stone, but the cold, black eyed stare of Roberto and the instant attention of the other boys in the courtyard….


Competition: The Pen Factor 2016, Round 1

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Read Reviews

Review 1:


Compelling hook?

Fresh?

Strong characters?

Entertaining?

Attention to mechanics
  • You demonstrate a professional quality of writing throughout the story.
Narration and dialogue: Balance
  • There needs to be more balance between narration and dialogue. Avoid overdoing the narrative and remember that dialogue can diffuse long claustrophobic text.
Characterization
  • Your characters were multidimensional. I found them believable and engaging and they genuinely responded to the events of the story.
Main character
  • Your protagonist exhibited a unique voice and had original characteristics. Their actions and dialogue were convincing!
Character conflict
  • Your characters drew me into their world from the very beginning. Their goals, conflicts and purpose were clearly introduced and I wanted to find out more about them.
Authentic and vivid setting
  • The setting was realistic and vivid. The characters’ mood and emotions were conveyed successfully through the believable setting.
Opening line and hook
  • Your strong opening and compelling hook was a promise of wonderful things to come!
General comments from your fellow writer 1:
My main observation is that the story lacks dialogue. The dense prose would benefit by being broken up by a bit of conversation or exchange of opinion. One small correction: I think you mean 'cited' and not 'sited' (by the black clad..... Finally, 25mm = 2.5cm which is roughly an inch - would the boy really need a prosthesis? The story is promising and could turn out well.

Review 2:


Compelling hook?

Fresh?

Strong characters?

Entertaining?

Attention to mechanics
  • You demonstrate a professional quality of writing throughout the story.
Narration and dialogue: Balance
  • There needs to be more balance between narration and dialogue. Avoid overdoing the narrative and remember that dialogue can diffuse long claustrophobic text.
Characterization
  • Your characters were multidimensional. I found them believable and engaging and they genuinely responded to the events of the story.
Character conflict
  • Your characters drew me into their world from the very beginning. Their goals, conflicts and purpose were clearly introduced and I wanted to find out more about them.
Plot and pace
  • Maintaining the right pace and sustaining the reader’s interest is a challenging balancing act. The story had a clear and coherent progression with a structured plot.
Technique and tight writing
  • When writing is tight, economical and each word has purpose, it enables the plot to unravel clearly. Try and make each individual word count.
Style and originality
  • I loved your fresh approach. Creating a unique writing style while maintaining quality of prose requires both skill and practice.
Atmosphere and description
  • Your story was a feast for the senses. The atmosphere wrapped itself around me and transported me onto the page alongside your characters.
Authentic and vivid setting
  • The setting was realistic and vivid. The characters’ mood and emotions were conveyed successfully through the believable setting.
Opening line and hook
  • Your strong opening and compelling hook was a promise of wonderful things to come!
General comments from your fellow writer 2:
Your storyteller has a compelling voice and vivid description. I personally have not written from this point of view because I have been schooled to "show not tell." But I believe there is a place for talented narrative. Although there are many stories of poor, abused orphans, it is a interesting place to start and I am curious to see where it goes from here.