Wrack Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Two unnamed men are conversing; the text reports only their dialogue, so that the reader must make sense of their remarks as if overhearing them. The opening remarks place the reader in a garden on a day of sunshine and clouds. When the sun is behind a cloud, the first speaker complains of being cold but admits to being consoled lately by the flowers, the Japanese rock garden, Social Security, philosophy, and sexuality.

Then the tone changes. Each man asserts that the other is driving him crazy, and the second man complains of the cold and reports that he still has to “muck out the stable and buff up the silver.” He is working for an unspecified “they,” who trust him completely. Also, he and the first man have a joint interest in deciding “what color to paint the trucks.”

This apparently idle conversation begins to include some odd questions asked by the second speaker: “The kid ever come to see you?” “Where’s your watch?” Then he says, “The hollowed-out book . . . is not yours. We’ve established that. Let’s go on.” Other items follow, with no system or meaning: doors, a bonbon dish, a shoe, a hundred-pound sack of saccharin, a dressing gown, and “two mattresses surrounding the single slice of salami.”

This line of questioning, though obviously not literal and realistic, makes the reader realize that the first man has recently been divorced, that the second man is simultaneously an acquaintance and a lawyer for the divorced wife, and that the two men are establishing the individual ownership of possessions once held in common.

Each item gives rise to a series of remarks, in the course of which the reader learns about “my former wife”—who may not be the one now divorcing the speaker—and Shirley, a former maid. Near the end of the dialogue the lawyer describes the former husband as “too old”: “You’re too old, that’s all it is, think nothing of it,” and he denies that description “wholeheartedly” (insisting on that term). The men conclude by raising again the subject of the trucks to be painted.