Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Snow and long, dark New England winters figure heavily in much of Russell Banks’s fiction. The vagaries of the weather enable him to capture the bittersweet qualities of everyday living. At the start of “The Moor,” the snowflakes are light, growing in intensity as the evening passes. Snow, so beautiful in reflected light, embraces the landscape, but the inherent dangers of a snowfall—sleet, massive accumulations, enforced isolation—are always there. Snow might represent aging, impending silence, and death. People’s personal weather forecasts are as changing, as fraught with the potential for good or bad, as any that a meteorologist might provide.

Banks is a storyteller and, therefore, engages the reader in a dialogue. Warren, the main character, addresses the reader in the first line, saying that he is middle-aged. The reader instantly knows who is being called on to look age squarely in the eye and identifies with his uneasiness. Warren takes the reader on a journey into the past and to the uncertain future as though holding the reader’s hand instead of that of the eighty-year-old love of his youth. These two people are still lovers in the sense that they each want to give something to the other, perhaps just the “right” answer to a question. The pure happiness and gratitude that fill Gail’s face when Warren says that she was his first love justifies the prevarication. Her love is expressed through the simple gesture of covering his hand with hers. When she tells Warren that he was the only other man she had loved, he encircles her hand.

Banks’s eye for detail and his terse, exact prose cut through to the essence of what is important. The reader understands the unthinking banter of Warren’s cronies, the need they feel for a place to belong, and the everyday quality of their lives. The bartender’s small gesture of providing the two old friends’ last drinks on the house speaks volumes about caring and kindness. Although Warren notices his former lover’s dewlaps, bagginess, liver spots, and crackled old hands, they do not detract from the tender love he feels or make the kiss goodbye seem implausible. Repeated references to her age do not negate the fact that she is ageless to him—and concentrating on the small kindness they shared will help him along that snowy, lonely road.