Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The style of “Unperformed Experiments Have No Results” reflects the mind of the first-person narrator, Philippa: It is meditative, ruminative, and discursive. From the very beginning of the story, her primary concern is a detached, philosophical interest in the curious way that events come together to suggest some significance. “Spooked by coincidence,” she has the typical writer’s need to create a pattern; not content with meaningless accident, she finds the neatness of coincidence thought provoking. When she does not find a meaningful connection between events, she imagines or creates one. Because of this obsession, she can never be quite sure what the man in the canoe has to do with Brian or what the seventeenth century Jesuit missionaries she reads about have to do with the man in the canoe. However, writerlike, she persists in exploring these connections, reading about the survival against all odds of the priests and connecting that to the survival against all odds of the man in the canoe. If he is not found, if he survives, then in an imaginative way, Brian survives also. Whenever she wants to question herself, to challenge herself in her beliefs and opinions, she always summons up Brian, who knows very well that she lives more in her creative imagination than she does in the real world.

“Unperformed Experiments Have No Results” is thus a kind of philosophic set piece in which observations, readings, and emotional experiences all become grist for the writer’s mill. The narrator who has assembled all these seemingly unrelated bits of experience cannot be sure whether the events actually happened in real time and space or in her mind because what happens in her reading and in her dreams and fantasies has the same reality as what happens in real life. The style of the story reflects this uncertainty.