I have noticed over the last couple years that, especially when I'm stressed, I tend to fit myself into a nice little familiar niche of one or two genres of literature and just stay there. This isn't a bad thing, but I do like to break out every now and then and try something a little different. This weeks' review is for a short story in the Historical Fiction genre, and based on a true story.
Agent 355 is the tale of a specific young woman that served as an informant for the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Though little is known about her real-life namesake, Agent 355 is a strong-willed and opinionated girl of marrying age living in New York City during the British occupation.
All of that was enough to catch my interest, but I discovered as the story continued that my old nemesis had come back to plague me again.
This has come up in quite a few of my reviews now, so let me explain a little of what I mean when I bemoan the inconsistent pacing of a story.
As you know, when you read the first chapter of a story, it sets the bar for what you can expect through the rest of the book. It may slow down a little, it may speed up a smidge, but it's unlikely to vary too much without returning to the standard set by the first chapter. Part of the tension inherent in a story is found in how far the pacing has strayed from its standard. The pacing is like an elastic band. As long as the pacing stays at the same speed of the opening chapter or close to it, we can be sure of the rhythm of the story, but if it speeds up, we're waiting for the climax that will bring it back down to "normal," and if it slows down, we're waiting for something to happen and speed things up again.
These are excellent tools in a writer's belt, and should definitely be used where they're suited. The problem comes up when they're used unconsciously or without thought for how the audience perceives them.
In Agent 355, the opening chapter is up close and personal, following a single character through a single evening and the events thereof. In the chapters thereafter, a single chapter might cover weeks or even months at a time with very little detail, resulting in a much faster pace and more distant perspective, as though the author were summarizing what happened during a time-lapse or a training montage.
It was an interesting story and I enjoyed it, but I felt unsatisfied at the end, because I was left still waiting for the pace to return to "normal." The narrative tension hadn't been released.
All that said, I do think it was a worthwhile read, and will inspire many more stories to come. If you like stories about girls defying the conventions of their time and "true love finding a way," I would recommend this book.