Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Joy Williams once said in an essay that the writer cherishes mystery and does not want to advocate or instruct or disclose but rather to escape the obligations of his or her time by transcending them. She also noted that once a writer knows how to achieve a certain stylistic effect, he or she must abandon that method, for repeated effects become false and mannered. However, Williams’s writing has been criticized by some reviewers as being merely mannerism, that she writes predictably “laconic little slices of life,” each one of which is deceptively inconsequential and indistinguishable from the last one.

“Train” is a classic example of the minimalist style that became popular after the success of Raymond Carver in the 1970’s. Nothing of major significance seems to take place; a lot of seemingly trivial details are mentioned; and characters seem isolated from one another by misunderstanding and preoccupation. However, the story differs from the bare realistic laconic nature of Carver’s stories by harkening back to the clever precocity of the Glass family of J. D. Salinger more than twenty years earlier. For example, when Jane chides Danica for writing a letter to her dog, she says, “Your writing to Jim Anderson is dumb in about twelve different ways. He’s a golden retriever, for Godssakes.”

As is typical of this kind of story, seemingly inconsequential events and details have thematic rather than plot significance....

(The entire section is 456 words.)