Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Kelley’s style here is unembellished and direct, almost reportorial. His typical descriptions, presented in loose, choppy sentences, are nearly juvenile in their simplicity: “She squinted. She looked like a doll, made of black straw, the wrinkles in her face running in one direction like the head of a broom. Her hair was white and coarse and grew out straight from her head. Her eyes were brown . . . and were hidden behind thick glasses.” Instead of detracting from the story, however, this language is appropriate, because the action is related through the young Chig’s eyes. At seventeen, he is on the threshold of adulthood, but he is an innocent in this story with regard to his father’s relationship to GL and the rest of the family down South.

Unfortunately, the author neglects an opportunity to use this naïve point of view to heighten suspense. With Chig’s uninformed observations, he could have deftly alerted readers to the angry confrontation that ends the tale. Instead, Kelley undercuts the plot by revealing the outcome too soon. For example, during the dinner-table discussion of GL, Chig sees his father’s “face completely blank, without even a trace of a smile or a laugh.” The youth is too absorbed with the fun and food to conclude that something has gone awry. However, the impact of his description is weak because it lacks subtlety. In the very first sentence of this story, Chig discloses that “something was wrong” between his father and grandmother. Additionally, his early comments about his father’s “far too offhand” manner and reticence about his childhood forebode disaster. Thus, Chig’s half-conscious glance at his father during the meal is simply another part of the climax, rather than an unsettling, masterful harbinger of it.