Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Comic inversion, allusion, action, and dialogue are four technical devices that Schickler deploys consistently and deftly to give the story its quirky comic tone. From the first sentence, Schickler weaves a deft and seamless tapestry of allusions to novels, plays, and games that develop the theme of sexual attraction with interesting and sometimes fateful if not fatal consequences. Like Shakespeare’s comedies dealing with the sexual pursuit, this story is high comedy, not tragedy. However, Schickler’s allusions to Shakespeare’s Othello, the Moor of Venice and King Lear (1605-1606), Kerchek’s remembered high school boxing career, Nicole’s Cleopatra haircut, Samson’s suggestive name, and Chiapas’s inept cutting of Kerchek’s hair all suggest that the wrong marriage can result in tragedy and the “right one” in an examination of issues of power and subversion.

Throughout the story, the writing is taut and economical, marked with witty functional dialogue that develops character and moves the plot. Schickler tracks Nicole’s aggressive yet subtle pursuit of Kerchek and reveals Kerchek’s vulnerability to the campaign through a series of short scenes alternated with descriptions of his physical appearance, his solitary life, his attention to the details of teaching, and his own substantial intellect. Schickler balances Kerchek’s scholarly, bookish nature with functional allusions to his boxing background and his habit of jogging and working out.

Schickler packs his story with details of settings both exterior and interior that not only suggest their literal functions as classroom, chapel, and contrasting apartment buildings but also advance the plot and reveal the themes by their work as symbols. Kerchek’s world at the beginning of the story is a comfortable loop that links his classroom and his apartment. Nicole Bonner disturbs that world just as Eve “disturbed” Eden, as Cleopatra disturbed Rome’s Egyptian campaign. When Kerchek gets “the boxing feeling” in his stomach, he knows that he must fight or flee. Schickler shows that he has been preempted from doing either.