Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Creating carefully crafted stories that have been compared in subject matter and technique to the works of such modern American writers as Ann Beattie and David Leavitt, Cameron chronicles the lives of modern young people with an understated grace. He is a master of short witty sentences, such as clever correspondents write on postcards that they send from vacation spots. Indeed, the text of the card that Paul’s mother sends from Greece is indistinguishable in shape and syntax from the wording of the main narrative.

There is a conscious spareness of language that may be accounted for, in part, by the inability of typical Cameron characters to explicate their feelings. Paul, for example, responds to Neal’s discontent by admitting to himself, “I think about answering, but I can’t.” If he could give full voice to his feelings, perhaps he would say that what really matters is the moment itself as articulated by the senses. Paul tells his grandmother that it does not matter that she cannot remember what year it is or where she is. As each year follows the last, Mrs. Andrews seems to forget more and more; perhaps, thinks Paul, he himself will one day forget what he now thinks is most important. “Someday, I’ll forget Neal, just like my grandmother has forgotten the great love of her life.”

In acknowledgment of the unreliability of memory and the futility of forecasting the future, Paul leads a life that seems to demonstrate the value of the moment, an existence predicated on direct sensory experience. This may account for the almost lyrical moments in the text, such as when Paul imagines that he is on the balcony of a Mediterranean villa, and not in his parents’ suburban kitchen.

Although some critics say that Cameron creates characters who are detached from the world around them, there is actually an exaggerated consciousness of external environment in the typical Cameron narrative. Much value is placed on trademarks and descriptive labels. Perhaps this excessive regard for brand names, such as “Players” cigarettes and “Hostess” cherry pies, and the impulse to enumerate objects, such as the grandmother’s repeated queries regarding the identification of items in her immediate surroundings, are the means by which individuals stay connected to their environment and to each other. Specificity provides a sense of surety in a world where less and less is sure.