Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This story is structured as a retrospective monologue, in which an older narrative voice looks back on an earlier self. This structure creates two perspectives that compete with each other: One is an older, more disillusioned perspective, which insinuates itself subtly into the stream of impressions and sensations that emanate from the more childlike consciousness of the younger self. The narrator will remind us strategically that what she is describing is what she as a little girl experienced “then,” with the inference that the narrator has revised and rethought her situation with the passing years and is now ready to speak with both the voice of herself as a child and as an older, wiser adult who is summoning up a childhood plethora of sensations and feelings.

It is this flood of sensations and feelings that constitutes the major portion of this narrative, creating a dense mass of impressions that become so overwhelming that the narrative quickly moves from ordinary realism into a kind of lyric poetry, or into a stream-of-consciousness narrative that suggests an altered state. The overall impression is of a consciousness that is immensely alive to the all-abundant sensations and impressions around and within her.

However, although the normal flow of time seems to mystically give way to an intense accumulation of insights and emotions, the narrative also incessantly and subtly exposes family divisions and problems lurking below the surface. Harold Brodkey uses two specific incidents to reveal the troublesome family dynamic in which the little girl finds herself enmeshed. The first of these is the overheated, earthy experience of feeding the pigeons with her father; the second is the otherworldly experience of watching the mountains with her mother. In each case, Brodkey explores the exquisite aesthetic and sensual pleasure the girl feels, but qualified by the introduction of words that dissent from this premise. At the very outset of the story, Brodkey introduces the idea of crime and cruelty; later on, he insinuates words such as awful, nausea, vomit, illness, and spit. That these are interwoven with moments of joy effectively suggests the struggle within the narrative consciousness to come to terms with the darker side of her experience.

Verona Bibliography

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Bawer, Bruce. “A Genius for Publicity.” The New Criterion 7 (December, 1988): 58-69.

Bidney, Martin. “Song of Innocence and of Experience: Rewriting Blake in Brodkey’s ’Piping Down the Valleys Wild.’” Studies in Short Fiction 31 (Spring, 1994): 237-246.

Braham, Jeanne. “The Power of Witness.” The Georgia Review 52 (Spring, 1998): 168-180.

Brodkey, Harold. This Wild Darkness: The Story of My Death. New York: Henry Holt, 1996.

Dolan, J. D. “Twilight of an Idol.” Nation 262 (March 25, 1995): 35-36.

Kermode, Frank. “I Am Only Equivocally Harold Brodkey.” The New York Times Book Review, September 18, 1988, 3.

Mano, D. Keith. “Harold Brodkey: The First Rave.” Esquire 87 (January, 1977): 14-15.

Weiseltier, Leon. “A Revelation.” The New Republic 192 (May 20, 1985): 30-33.