Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story is told from a retrospective first-person point of view by the unnamed narrator, who writes with the authority of one of the convict members of the Wolves. Billman couples convincing knowledge of the historical facts about Wyoming’s various oil and uranium booms with stories about prison hockey. Billman seems familiar with the efforts in the 1950’s of Leonard “Oakie” Brumm, who, as the athletic director for the state prison at Marquette, Michigan, once arranged for his team of hard-core convicts to play hockey against the Detroit Redwings—instead of rioting. The result of Billman’s research and powers of observation is a realistic yet mythically compelling and insightful narrative about the human condition, rendered in a crisp and colloquial style that moves subtly into allegory. Billman weaves together elements of Christian myth and legend with such gritty details of prison life in Wyoming as the Oregon boot. Billman provides rich additional details about Wyoming small-town life and the hockey played in cigar-smoke-filled arenas by teams that are owned and sponsored by sleazy newly rich oil barons before audiences who shower opposing teams with beer, cigarettes, and mustard.

Billman’s style is clear, colloquial, concrete, and rendered in a voice at once laconic and stoic. The narrator is never named, his “outside” identity submerged completely in his role as spokesperson. The story thus takes on the quality of folk legend, anonymous yet profound. The narrator is the voice for his gang, his pack. As one of the apostles, his function is to set down this “epistle” to the world, this story of a group of men led by their redeemer not to a life of fame and fortune but to a life of sacrifice and insight and powerful bonding. Religious allegory is often risky business for a writer, but Billman succeeds because he gets the details of prison life and small-town hockey right. He is totally in control of the tone, set by the low, even voice of his narrator who was there and lived to testify to the truth of the events. Billman signals his deepest thematic intentions clearly in the first sentence of the second paragraph, which articulates the progression of gang-to-team-to-apostles.