The narrative viewpoint of “Teenage Wasteland” is that of Donny Coble’s mother, Daisy. The entire story is told in the third person as an omniscient author might tell it, but one who knows only the thoughts and feelings of Daisy. All events are presented as Daisy experiences or observes them, and the dialogue always includes her.
Daisy is not given to introspection and emotionalism, as one may expect, considering the disappearance of her son, with whom she cannot communicate. The boy wants to be trusted and treated as an adult, even as he behaves in childish and self-indulgent ways. These are judgments that the author’s style leads the reader to make; Tyler herself does not judge. Her style is unemotional, detached, and objective. Her characteristic use of brief, telling descriptions and natural, credible dialogue keeps the pace of the story swift; there is not an unnecessary word. For example, when Daisy catches up with Donny at his tutor’s home after his expulsion, she merely says, “Hello, Donny.” It is a simple greeting that conveys her inability to express her deep feeling of relief, her uncertainty about how to approach her son, who replies by simply flicking his eyes at her.
In addition to concise, sketchy narration, and dialogue that seems exactly suited to the speakers’ personalities, Tyler uses images to convey tone and mood. The brief scene in Cal’s backyard, for example, is made visible and meaningful through the image of a fence casting shadows across the grass in narrow bars. The suggestion of a prison is not made, but the connection is undeniable. The scene is echoed in the closing sentence of the story as Daisy sighs and tosses sleeplessly, unable to come to a clear understanding of what has happened.
It is possible to read this story in terms of superficial facts. However, the reader who searches for what those facts suggest beneath the surface of brief conversations and simple, straightforward narration in which every word is essential, will be rewarded. As usual, Tyler transforms ordinary people in familiar situations into a moving tale that can appeal to readers who recognize themselves or someone they know.