Light Action in the Caribbean Analysis

Barry Lopez

Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

If Lopez’s purpose in “Light Action in the Caribbean” is to set up a situation in which the reader wants punishment for a character and then feels horrified when the punishment takes place, his stylistic method in the story is calculated to achieve this effect. Lopez once said that a lot of what he does in fiction is about language and rhythm. The story begins with the stylistic rhythm of ordinary, even banal, reality as Libby prepares for a quite common vacation trip with David. When the focus shifts to David, the rhythm shifts to one of satire for a character who is obviously arrogant and overbearing, a man who feels he can control everything and everyone around him. David’s dialogue, his behavior, and his attitude are described in such a way as to make the reader increasingly dislike him. Indeed, the description of David has no other purpose.

The rhythm of the story shifts when the strange boat appears, as dumb and indifferent as an attacking animal, bearing down on them like a barracuda. When a man on board the second boat shoots Esteban, Lopez makes it clear how indifferent and how horrifying the act is by being quite specific about the trajectory of all nineteen of the bullets the man fires from his automatic weapon. The rape and murder of David and Libby is told in the same detached and objective fashion. There is no sense of anger or hatred in the killings, just cold brutality. The horror the reader feels is directly proportional to the indifference with which the murders are described.

The rhythm shifts again in the last few paragraphs in a coda in which Lopez describes a man in a fishing boat a few miles to the east. Although this bucolic description seems out of place after what has just occurred, it suggests the ordinary rhythm of everyday reality, a reality that continues unaffected by the horror that takes place nearby.