A few years ago, I found a mailla folder with a small stack of neatly typed onionskin pages held together with a rusty little paperclip. The title reads “Caitlin’s Animal Farm” by Sara Duvall. I don’t mind telling you, Dear Reader, that this is one of the great unfinished works in late 20th century American literature. I wrote it circa 1989 and I am certain this is going to be one of Oprah’s book club picks very soon.
The general idea of the story is a bunch of kids are stranded on an island with no adult supervision. (Heard it before? Yes, well, mine’s DIFFERENT.) The narration is delivered via first-person point of view and consists almost entirely of descriptions of the other students. Caitlin, our heroine, is exceedingly smart and efficient in this time of distress, guiding her classmates to safety and observing the horror with the calm clarity of a person much older and wiser. Eleven pages illustrate for us Caitlin’s true leadership qualities as she divides tasks, makes plans, and doesn’t even sniffle at the prospect of life on a deserted island.
As I read over this, I’m sort of touched. This was me, twenty years ago, trying to be a writer. There’s a lot working here. But most of it is typical first writer junk. That’s a pen name up there and all the characters have names out of soap operas – Sebastion Kingsley, Milla Johannsen, Suzanne Beckwith, Stephanie Scott. There’s a LOT of telling-not-showing. Here’s a gem: “Both girls were very pretty, Stephanie more of the ditzy blonde and Suzanne more the artful dodger with a hint of femininity woven in.” HA. Brilliant.
I was obsessed with the class divide story and I was reading a lot of books featuring the poor kid/rich kid thing. Many of the kids in this piece are very well off but who is it that saves the day? Conscientious, hard-working Caitlin who doesn’t have money but makes up for it in common sense.
I saved this because this is so much of what was going through my mind at this age. And because it’s my writing roots. It reminds me that writing isn’t just a passing fancy, it’s something I’ve been drawn to and compelled to do for at least two-thirds of my life. I like to pull it out now and then, just to see how far I’ve come.