(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This story has no plot in the conventional sense; its narrator does not tell a tale with sequential events. Rather, he recalls from his childhood various sensations, emotions, and incidents arising from his relationship at that time with his father. The story is not solely about what he felt as a child; it is, more important, also a presentation of the sensations and emotions that his recollections arouse in him as he dredges them up from the past. The story is, then, in part a study of an emotional state in a man who is recalling and interpreting emotional states experienced in his childhood.

The narrator is an adult of unspecified age; the events that he describes happened when he was quite young, probably about six or seven. Among a far more extensive exploration of psychological states, his narrative includes several incidents from his childhood. Often, he recalls, he would be dispatched by his mother to cheer up his father, an exceedingly moody man. Once, when the narrator, as a young boy, was upset, his father came out onto the porch of the family home to reassure him. On another occasion, the father came home with several thousand dollars in bank notes and was chastised by his wife, whom he accused of being a spoilsport. He took his son and daughter outside, but when he was confronted with what he perceived as materialism in his daughter, he returned to the house to blame his wife for teaching that vice to her daughter.

These keys to the kind of family life that the narrator had are not told sequentially and are not even a framework on which the psychological exploration is based, but they do provide the backdrop for an investigation of more shifting, elusive emotions. That exploration is halting, detailed, and very introspective. Although the few details of the domestic incidents are remembered relatively clearly and described briefly, the narrator’s recollection of the emotions surrounding them is expressed less decisively; each element of the emotions is inspected, each conclusion reinspected and refined.

The narrator’s descriptions and development of his recollections depend only in part on what actually occurred in his childhood. More important is what he can now make of what happened: “Some memories huddle in a grainy light. What it is is a number of similar events bunching themselves, superimposing themselves, to make a false memory, a collage, a mental artifact.” The narrator is...

(The entire section is 995 words.)