Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Susan Perabo describes one week, Monday to Monday, in the characters’ lives to demonstrate their routines, which establish the basis for the change in two of the characters. The story is also roughly divided into two halves, the first part showing the daughter heavily sedated and the second part showing her off her medications. The author parallels these two parts with the perspectives of the characters. In the first part, the daughter and stepfather seem trapped and disillusioned. In the second part, they are active and willing to change their situation. The two parts of the story suggest a movement from disorder to order, from a sedated fugue to a clearer perspective illustrated by their suspension above the material world as they sit atop the Ferris wheel trying to exorcise their pain. The author’s allusion to Frost’s poem, in addition to providing the story title, intensifies the serious nature of the characters’ anxiety. Their worlds are disordered and precariously close to ending because of the animosity of misguided human desire.

The story moves along primarily via the dialogue of the characters, although the participant narrator also provides readers with sufficient background information to establish the anxiety of her situation. The story does not follow a conventional plot. There is much more emphasis on characterization and revelatory dialogue, but the story does move toward resolution of the immediate conflicted situation. The resolution, however, is ambiguous. Readers are led to believe the daughter and Mr. Arnette will indeed act by leaving for Canada, but questions remain about the nature of their relationship. Is it only an ecstatic fire of the moment, a fire that will burn out of control? The suspension above the material world on the Ferris wheel is pronounced safe by Mr. Arnette, but their position is temporary; they must eventually come back down to earth. What will be the reality of their experience once the safe but temporary suspension has run its course? Readers celebrate the courage of the characters who act and remove themselves from a deceitful and painful situation, but questions about their ability to maintain a healthy equilibrium in the future remain. Perabo’s use of a troubled first-person participant narrative voice skillfully intensifies the ambiguity.