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by Kathy Kale
Missy, the realtor, towering beside him, reeled off the selling features. Twelve foot high ceilings, rare black marble floors, teak trim imported from India. At twenty-nine, she was ambitious, both a digger and a climber, a reminder of four ex-wives. Missy wanted the commission, but flaunted the low interest rate. If Art assumed the terms of the current mortgage, he could lock in an excellent price.
He strode to the north window and stared at a wall of skyscrapers off Broadway. He had to ramp up production and needed more space. Drug manufacturing could stay in the New Jersey warehouse, but top management would move. Production was set to double. Art made a four-drug cocktail that was used to combat leukemia, breast, pancreatic, liver, skin, kidney, stomach, and colon cancer. Everything under the sun except brain cancer, thanks to the blood-brain barrier. The complete treatment of thirty-two injections over an eight-week period cost forty thousand dollars, retail. With one out of four people coming down with cancer every year, and no end to the war in sight, he had a guaranteed market.
Missy stood at the doorway. “It won’t last long,” she said. “Not at this price. Not in this location.”
Ms. Shreditor's Comments
I absolutely love the first sentence of this story, particularly the bit at the end: “Art Farber was finally on top.” That’s a loaded sentence right there. If Art Farber is on top in the first sentence of the story, there’s really only one direction for him to go from here. (Hint: It’s not up.) To paraphrase the last sentence of the first paragraph, this is just the beginning indeed.
This first page sets up a lot of stakes right off the bat: Art has established himself as a leader in the cancer drug field, and his business is booming so fast that he can hardly keep up with the demand. We also get enough description of Missy, his realtor, to suggest that she may be a major character in the story. (However, the description of her as the prototypical ambitious career woman is a bit reductive, but I imagine we’ll learn more about her later.) If I’m right that Missy is to be a major character, it sounds like the kind of high-powered couple that can go one of two ways: 1) They conquer the world together, or 2) They fall from the top together. It would be interesting to find out if I was right about any of these first-page impressions.
Missy does serve a larger narrative purpose than merely selling Art his office space. As Art describes her, he lets it slip that she reminds him of his four ex-wives. That’s a pretty hefty rap sheet. Readers can start to make some assumptions about Art now that they know this tidbit. In all likelihood, he is married to his job and doesn’t have much time to build real relationships with other people. We’re left wondering what else he has done to make four separate marriages fail. (Perhaps it’s unfair of me to assume that the divorces were his fault, but he is the common denominator here.)
One thing I like in particular about this first page is that it takes place in New York, but it’s not a touristy depiction of the city. It feels organic and not like a vision of the city culled from Google and travel guides. (I’ve read some published books set in New York and was convinced the authors had never experienced the city beyond Google.) I think what this first page gets right is that the description of the city doesn’t linger too long on tired NYC clichés—e.g., “towering skyscrapers,” “the bustle of the city streets,” etc.
A minor fact-checking detail: I was floored by the “one out of every four people coming down with cancer every year” statistic, so I did a bit of research. From what I can surmise, it’s not that one out of every four people gets cancer every year; instead, one out of every four deaths is from cancer. I’d recommend revising the sentence to reflect this distinction. It’s still a pretty sobering statistic.
Overall, there’s not much I would change here beyond some minor punctuation-level tweaks. This first page seems submission-ready.