Page One Review: The List by Carmen Shirkey

The List by Carmen Shirkey identifies itself fairly quickly as chick-lit (light, upbeat fiction marketed toward young women). I point this out only because I don’t read much (any) chick lit, these days, so I was hesitant, at first, to critique the page. Someone who doesn’t read a particular genre may not necessarily be the best judge of that genre.


Whatever the genre, the author should strive to grab the reader with her or his unique storytelling style, personal (creative) perspective, and grasp on writing.

I’m sorry to say this first page doesn’t really grab me in any of those areas.

We begin on a first date, and although I don’t read much chick-lit, I have watched (I think) every episode of “Sex and the City” and a number of romantic comedies. “First-date nightmare” is a used scenario, a tired scenario–unless it is being presented in a new and unexpected way.  The List doesn’t do this. The woman is on a date with an unappealing man, and the man is on the date because he wants to get laid. While straightforward and highly probable, it’s just not something that excites me as a reader. Instead, I think, “Of course.”

The man’s motivation isn’t something that makes me want to stop reading, but it is the first very small let-down. As I might have mentioned in an earlier review, I love relationship drama, and there’s plenty to be found in stories about dating. And that I don’t regularly read chick-lit doesn’t mean it’s not something that could easily become a guilty pleasure. I continued through page one hoping to read more about this date, and looking forward to seeing how this strong, female protagonist would deal with her stereotypically immature companion.

What happens instead is that I’m launched out of the date and into a “how did I get here?” reverie that goes on a for a few pages before bringing us back to it (I scrolled, because I wanted to know if we would, in fact, be brought back).

What works well on this first page is 1) that we’re introduced to the protagonist’s friend, Monica, fairly smoothly through a dialogue-driven flashback 2) the idea of a list of desirable traits, and 3) the use of a familiar, informal tone that makes readers feel like they’re talking to a friend.

What doesn’t work:

1) The date is mentioned and is then neglected for too long

2) The familiar, friendly tone is at times is too familiar. The prose reads reads a bit like free-writing or a rough draft. For example, “…she had gotten all giddy with excitement…”  Shirkey also employs a few too many cliches or cliched images. [It should be noted that cliches are a pet peeve of mine. It could be they work just fine in certain novels, but they annoy me. They may not annoy you. (Even if they should.)]

3) I also wish the list would have been more original, something that would tell me something about the protagonist, that would make her her.  Who is she? What does she like that’s different from what every other girl in a book or movie or TV show likes?

In short, the idea (or what the idea seems to be based on the title and first page) really is a fun one, and one I looked forward to reading. But I think the author should brand it with her own creativity. Get out of formula-safe mode and be daring. Have fun with it and make the story–one that has been told and re-told–her own.