Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The major method that Abbott uses throughout this brilliantly rendered story is what T. S. Eliot called the “Mythical Method.” This narrative is about the fall of a local hero in Deming, New Mexico, but it is also an old story about the fall of an ancient local leader’s fall from a condition of familial love and community into one of fragmented corruption. Most of the names of the characters, once their archaic origins are uncovered, are associated with ancient Scottish and Celtic families, locations, and clan wars. Dillon—a name that means “a spoiler, or corrupting agent”—emerges as a kind of Celtic chieftain whose spiritual health determines the health of his community. Allie Martin becomes the mythic wise guide betrayer—the one who abducts the leader’s wife—very much the way that Sir Lancelot took away King Arthur’s wife, Guinevere. The result is the same: the end of the communal Round Table and the destruction of Camelot.

What establishes the connection between these two worlds and stories is the archaic language—the language of those heroic Arthurian tales—which Ripley uses to define his spiritual value system. It is the language that Abbott uses that keeps those ancient ideals alive and functioning in the fallen world of the twentieth century. Oddly enough, the name Ripley means “a stripe of land or clearing,” which is exactly what a golf course is. Abbott also gently satirizes the modern version of this “old story” by holding it up for comparison to the ancient one, though he is not satirizing those venerable values that golf (and other sports) embody. The Valley of Sin is also the notorious fourteenth hole on one of the courses where the British Open is played each year.