Style and Technique (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Thom Jones uses a variety of techniques to capture the experience of an amnesiac. The story begins in media res, or “in the middle of things.” This technique means the author does not begin with an explanation of upcoming events or at the actual onset of the story. To capture the bewilderment of someone whose memory has been disrupted, the story begins in the middle of the action, at the moment of a bus crash. Ad Magic is described as a human cannonball as he flies down the bus’s center aisle.
Throughout the story, different characters and events mirror and double one another. The opening bus accident leaves Ad Magic pantomiming his need for help. Soon after, Ad Magic meets a young boy and his monkey, which also performs a meaningless little set of gestures. He offers to look after the boy, which triggers his memories of adults who looked after him when he was a boy. The boy and the trained monkey initially appear to be a source of comedy, as Ad Magic has been throughout the day, for the other tourists.
On first impression, the settings appear to be filled with unusual sights, generally humorous or surreal. However, they serve to support the deeper, sadder mood of the story. At first, the tone is humorous, as the story describes Ad Magic’s pratfall into bat guano, but this incident happens during a visit to a statue of Buddha, which is a source of meditative peace. The setting in which Ad Magic meets the horse contains a broken-down Ferris wheel. At first, it seems another outlandish setting, but with its endless circling, the wheel also represents his endless roaming search. Ad Magic goes for a swim in the bay, which is a moment of pure joy; however, he cannot help but notice that the water contains human waste. Earlier he has watched people wash their clothes in the same channel that others are using as a toilet. Everywhere the story is filled with images of duality.
At first, Ad Magic seems a ridiculous figure, as he offers hundreds and hundreds of dollars to take care of a horse he spotted only hours before. However, beneath the humor of the unfolding events of the story is a deep pathos, a deep sadness, as well.