Critical reading has arrived!

Critical reading is tomorrow night! (I’m early this week.) Join us to discuss Painted Ocean, Painted Ship by Rebecca Makkai, a story of slain albatrosses, passive racism, and soiled shoes.

Also, my last blog post indicated that this story was about confusion. But I had only given the story a cursory glance before writing the post. It would be better to say that this story is about misperception (see what I did there?).

The story can be read online with a free account at

On to this month’s questions!

  1. This story is divided into two discrete parts—part A, which makes up the bulk of the story, and part B. Part A is built on the strength of the narrator and the reader’s empathy for her. What details make Alex believable? What about her self-destructive rampage? And her obsession with her image? How does the author keep the last two facets of the character from descending into farce?
  2. Part A relies heavily on allusions to other works that most people would not be familiar with—does this story only work for fine arts majors that are intimately familiar with pre-Raphaelite painters and the Lake Poets? How does the author clue us in on these works without bogging us down with too much information?

    (Rime of the Ancient Mariner can be found here and paintings/photos of Jane Morris can be found here.)

  3. The story’s structure very blatantly reflects its theme of misperception (you think that you’re reading a story about one thing, but then find out that you’re actually reading something completely different). How do you feel about this? Is it too “on the nose?” Too “assembled?” Or would you consider it creative and masterful artistry?
  4. Part B of the story isn’t so much a “twist” in the story’s plot as a rewriting of Part A. And Part B is written in such a way as to resist/deflect any critique asserting that the reader isn’t well prepared for Part B (“But where had the signs been? There had been no signs;”). But, regardless, how did part B affect you? Did you find it to be effective? Jarring? Did you feel cheated? Or did it deepen your emotional connection to the story?
  5. Part B pretty blatantly spells out the story’s thesis. How does the author get away with this? Does it add or detract from your immersion into this story?

That’s it for questions. Bring your thoughts on this piece and your own questions to tonight’s meeting.

Each month, the reading workshop meets to read the work of a published author from a writer’s perspective, breaking down what makes the story work and why. It’s one of the best ways you can improve as a writer. Never been to a workshop? Check out our FAQ.

This event is free and open to the public, and you do not need to be a CCC member to attend. The Capital Club is located on the lobby floor of the Doubletree Suites Hotel on South Front Street. Get more details in this ancient blog post.

Check back next week when we’ll be posting discussion questions for you to mull over before the meetup.

Questions? Comments? Got a story you’d love to discuss? Send them to the workshop moderator at See you there!