Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Powers strives for no high effects in style and technique. He tells his love story from the conventional viewpoint of the omniscient third-person narrator and divides events into essentially three scenes: the reception room, the shipping room, and the Newmans’ home. He has a sure touch with his minor characters: The receptionist takes on exactly the right role with Mr. Newman, putting on a genuine smile and conspiring with him in his feeble witticisms. Mr. Shanahan displays a convincing insolence of office, restrained but unmistakable. Mr. Hurley’s pompous worrying about deliveries to Fargo, North Dakota, stamp him as exactly the man for his job, and even Mr. Newman’s surly coworker is the quintessential disgruntled employee.

Powers achieves verisimilitude with minor details. Mr. Newman’s application form instructs him “DO NOT WRITE BELOW THIS LINE” and occupies him for a moment deciphering personnel codes such as CLN for “clean” and DSPN for “disposition.” His company displays a motto boasting that it is “a modern house over 100 years young.” The “vaultlike solemnity of the washroom” is presented in detail. All these touches are reassuring for their homeliness and banality.

Descriptions of weather are infallible devices to create mood. When Mr. Newman goes home after his hard day’s work, snow is falling as a proper complement to the Christmastime setting. He enters his home to the comfort of the “familiar rug” and the warming radiator. He is now back in his snug lair with his longtime mate, secure from the menaces of the workplace and the hazards of the elements. The creature comforts of the archetypal setting invite hope, optimism, and a simple faith in the inevitable rightness of things. Such careful attention to texture combines with Powers’s development of his appealing main characters to produce the story’s special poignancy.

The Old Bird Bibliography

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Evans, Fallon, comp. J. F. Powers. St. Louis: Herder, 1968.

Gussow, Mel. “J. F. Powers, 81, Dies.” The New York Times, June 17, 1999, p. C23.

Hagopian, John V. J. F. Powers. New York: Twayne, 1968.

Long, J. V. “Clerical Character(s).” Commonweal, May 8, 1998, 11-14.

McInerny, Ralph. “The Darkness of J. F. Powers.” Crisis, March, 1989, 44-46.

Merton, Thomas. “Morte D’Urban: Two Celebrations.” Worship 36 (November, 1962): 645-650.

Meyers, Jeffrey. “J. F. Powers: Uncollected Stories, Essays and Interviews, 1943-1979.” Bulletin of Bibliography 44 (March, 1987): 38-39.

Powers, Katherine A. “Reflections of J. F. Powers: Author, Father, Clear-Eyed Observer.” The Boston Globe, July 18, 1999, p. K4.

Preston, Thomas R. “Christian Folly in the Fiction of J. F. Powers.” Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction 16, no. 2 (1974): 91-107.