Wednesday, November 2, 2011

6-Star Reviews Part 5: Memorial

To read the story, click the image or follow this link

What better followup to my review of Bubbles could there be than another sad story about Derpy?  This time it's Buxton's Memorial.  Despite being written at around the same time as Bubbles, this fic hasn't gotten nearly as much attention as that one has.  Has it been unfairly overlooked?  Or is there a gap in quality between the two?  Or to take a third option, is it unfair to compare two stories based solely on the fact that they have the same protagonist and genre label?

As always, look after the break for more.

Impressions before reading:  I've never even heard of this story, so not a lot to go on before I dive in.  I see that it uses 'Bright Eyes' as Derpy's name.  Does anyone still call her that?  I don't have a problem with the name, but it's been a long time since I've seen it used.  Of course, this story is from March, so it's not like it's out of place...I'm just curious, that's all.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Once a year, Bright Eyes goes to visit her mother's grave.  Here is presented a meandering trip through that special day, and what it means to her.

Thoughts after reading:  Let's be clear right off the bat: this isn't Bubbles.  Next, let me answer my own question from the start of this review: that is not a fair comparison.  These are two completely different stories, and the fact that both of them are about Derpy and are supposed to tug on the heartstrings does not mean that they have much else in common.  Although it's easy to say that I liked one better than the other, it's also a cop-out, and supremely uninformative.  I also like Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail more than I like Airplane!  That doesn't change the fact that comparing the two is apples to oranges.  Each deserves to be judged on its own merits.  It's easy to forget that sometimes, especially in a case like this where I'm reading two stories with some superficial similarities only a couple of days apart, but I'm going do do everything I can to not let my feelings about one story bleed over into another review.

That's not to say that I can't point out certain similarities for the sake of examining this story, though.  Notably, both stories use present tense third-person limited perspective, focusing on Derpy.  Likewise, both use simplistic word choice and rambling sentences in the narration to try to give the reader an impression of Derpy's mental state.

Unfortunately, Memorial falls short in this regard.  The author didn't push the perspective in the narrative enough, so we end up with the occasional "good" for "well," a couple of deliberately missed commas, and an otherwise "normal" narration.  Rather than feeling like we're being given a look into Bright Eyes' mind, the effect is more like having Clippy pop up every paragraph or three to say, "It looks like you might have forgotten that Bright Eyes is retarded!"

Okay, that's way too harsh.  The narration isn't nearly as obtrusive or out of place as the analogy suggests, although it is occasionally jarring.  What I'm trying to say is that the attempt to show Bright Eyes' mind in the narration felt like an unwelcome insertion rather than a natural result of the writing.

Although this story does make Bright Eyes out to be mentally and physically handicapped, I felt that it did not treat the subject dismissively.  Again, not my favorite interpretation of the character, but well-handled.

Although some parts of the story felt a bit cliche (Mommy says daddy's singing with the angels, that they're just like pegasus ponies but made of light?  That's just too much like something I'd see on the Hallmark channel), there was genuine sadness to be mined.  The idea that Bright Eyes still feels responsible for her mother's death is never directly stated, but is subtly implied through her actions and recollections.  This understatement lends the idea great poignancy, one that anyone who's ever unfairly blamed themselves for a loved one's death can relate to intimately.

The ending was touching.  Although not really "happy," it allows the reader a certain cathartic release, the hallmark of a satisfying bittersweet or ambiguous ending.

Star rating: ☆ (what does this mean?)

It's true that I cried as I read this story, and there are some powerful moments to it. But I can't overlook the way that some parts veer away from touching and dive straight into maudlin territory. Add to this that the narrative style doesn't fully succeed in capturing the workings of Bright Eyes' mind, and I can't honestly say that this represents the highest echelon of fan fiction.

Recommendation:  For a sad story, it's not bad by any stretch. Go ahead and give it a look if you want a quick read that will bring tears to your eyes. If you're a fan of mentally handicapped Derpy, this is one of the better portrayals of her. Otherwise, I wouldn't feel obligated to give this one a go.

Next Time: Constellations, by The RPGenius.

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