Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Targan uses a complex and sophisticated technique: “Old Light” is a story within a story and a memory within a memory. The narrator—evidently not Targan himself—is remembering a story that his grandmother used to tell him and his sisters about her wartime love affair. His own story is nothing more than a framing device; her story is contained within his story, but his story has no other purpose than to present her story.

Born in 1932, Targan was twelve years old in 1944—when the story takes place. He thus was far too old to have a grandmother who was a young woman during World War II. He adopts a fictitious persona as narrator of “Old Light” partly to get the effect of distance in time. By choosing to present his material as a story within a story, he gets an odd effect resulting from using two different points of view: that of the grandmother talking about the past and that of the narrator talking about the past from the point of view of the present.

“Old Light” contrasts with another Targan story set in wartime Atlantic City: “Caveat Emptor” (1983), in which he employs a more conventional and straightforward narrative technique. Because the narrator of “Caveat Emptor” is a twelve-year-old boy telling about his own experiences, the reader is probably safe in assuming that this story is autobiographical. These two wartime stories—both of which are reprinted in Targan’s collection Falling Free...

(The entire section is 506 words.)