FimFiction Link - Short ID: 47908/life-is-a-lemon
Published: Nov '12 — Jan '13
'Life is a Lemon' is a seventeen thousand-word shortfic about a pony who thinks herself a lemon.
I feel using the usual format wouldn't do this story justice. There is every once in a while a fic that just feels different—'LiaL' is one of these. Though its topic is nothing new, the way it tackles Lemon's tragedy elevates it from the average sadfic and more than justifies its reception. It'd be extremely hard to speak of the story without spoilers, so if you wish to experience it blind (which I heavily recommend), now is the time.
What I believe makes this story so brilliant is how smoothly it segues from silliness to sadness. Not that it lacks clear 'stingers', there are clearly moments where the tenseness built up during the chapter snaps. However, there is a very carefully crafted subtle flow from Lemon's seeming youthful silliness, to her becoming eccentric, to clearly damaged, to actively haunted, until it all culminates in a gutpunch of a payoff. The fic uses its very short chapters to full effect, never meandering too much, instead focusing on showcasing how Lemon's imaginary wonderland slowly crumbles on itself.
It is particularly interesting to ponder which particular moment caused the cracks to form and I like that the fic provides several plausible answers. Was it Applejack's rant? Was it Apple Bloom? Was it her rapidly approaching birthday? Or something as subtle as seeing that butterfly? Even without a reread, it is blatantly obvious just how interwoven the story is with fleeting references to Lemon's earlier life and how the previously innocuous and whimsy moments become foreboding or just sad. I'm also impressed how, though the mystery is fairly blatant from the first third of the story, it manages to not only not hurt the experience, but actively enhance it, as the reader is enticed to find out just what exactly caused this poor pony to split so hard with reality.
Sadly, however, the fic is not perfect. I really hate the voice Applejack was given. There is just no use prettying it, she is a cunt and completely unlike herself. Which could perhaps be justified if Lemon's behavior was more disruptive, but Pinkie's assessment was correct: From an outside perspective she was eccentric at best and I'm pretty sure the town that hosts a pony like Pinkie, would eventually just roll with it. I also didn't really like how in the penultimate chapter Sunshine went on a tangent about the Equestrian afterlife. It didn't actively ruin the fic or anything, but it felt pointlessly detailed and distracting from an otherwise absolutely heartwrenching scene.
Overall: 9/10 'LiaL' falls in that magical spot between "very good" and "perfect". It certainly felt better than an 8, but it's sadly also not a 10/10. Still, even with its minor flaws, this is an exceptional story, that I can only recommend. And it didn't even have any Portal 2 references!
It's a really nice short story, I recommend it. If (You) haven't read it, consider doing so before reading the review -- it's impossible to talk about it without spoiling key elements of the fic. Expect major spoiler past this point.
While the core idea isn't particularly original, I think it's the first time I've seen it done so well in a ponyfic. I'm sure there are several other examples, but I can't think of any, and trying to wrap it in less than 20k words was a very bold choice regardless. For that matter, the author did a good job with such a really low word count, distilling it for maximum emotional impact.
But at the same time, I can't help but feel that being a oneshot is also the source of almost everything that's not so great about this story. By far the biggest issue for me was the pace of the fic. I don't mean pacing in the usual writefag meaning of the word (that was good), but it kinda sucks when you're less than 15 minutes into the fic, at the end of ch.1, and the story already bashes you over the head with the "reveal" that Lemon Dreams's lemon roleplay is just her way to cope with some sort of a past trauma. The next chapter all but tells you what happened, and from there the fic immediately progresses to its "finale" and the actual hard reveal. On the same note, Lemon Dreams is cured of her trauma the instant she actually confronts her delusions and we get a timeskip+happy ending in about two paragraphs.
Again, I'd like to reiterate that what the story actually does, it does exceedingly well. For the brief moment that her past remained a mystery, I was greatly interested in reading more about it. I wasn't a fan of a real ghost making an appearance, but it didn't feel *too* out of place, and I guess it was much more convenient for the author. The characters -- with the exception of AJ, whose rudeness felt more than slightly OOC -- were pretty good, Lemon Dreams was an interesting schizo protagonist. The fic read nicely, even the typos and a few weird sentences didn't do much harm to the prose.
All in all, it was quite nice, but I really wish it was much longer than 17k. More often than not, I'm the one defending oneshots, but to me this story felt limited by its word count. The semi-fake SoL section especially would've gained a lot from doubling or tripling in length. The way the fic gives the readers hints, letting them piece together the "real" story is super neat, but that effort was kind of wasted when the actual full reveal (via the stereotypical flashback sequence, to boot) came just a few thousand words later.
tl;dr: It's written well and I really liked what it tried to do, but for me it was too short. 8/10.
As every other review notes, the fic is impossible to discuss without spoilers. I'll therefore keep this short and spoiler free. The plot is very little that you've not seen before. The main character has nothing fundamentally interesting about them, but the execution is very good. The fic undeniably has the jolliness that you'd expect from a fic of its era. All in all, it's above average but not remarkable.