Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Grace’s fiction has often been called simple or lyrical, descriptions that fit “A Way of Talking.” She frequently employs the first-person narrative, as she does in this story. She is always skillful in capturing a voice that rings true, whether the voice is that of a shy young woman like Hera or the smart aleck narrator of “The Hills,” a story in another of Grace’s collections, Electric City, and Other Stories (1987). In these first-person narratives, the characters speak in their own way, tell a simple story about an experience in their lives, and then come to a realization.

Through the simplicity and lyricism of a narrative such as “A Way of Talking,” Grace moves toward a subtle complexity. In the four pages that the story covers, she opens up an entire world, showing that the Maori culture is a rich one, especially in its emphasis on family. Both of the scenes with the family eating, although only suggestive in detail, are striking in their representation of community, which is an essential element in Grace’s work. The character of Rose is immediately established through the eyes of the narrator. In turn, Hera evolves into a strong character as she analyzes her sister’s action and her own weakness.

The way Hera tells her story also brings to mind the Maori oral tradition, which like all such traditions relies in part on a storyteller relating an experience and concluding with a moral. Although the story related by Hera just hints at Grace’s use of this tradition, much of her fiction incorporates chants and other borrowings from the rich Maori oral tradition.