Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Bourjaily, a post-World War II American novelist, is associated with the “after the lost generation” writers who use techniques pioneered by post-World War I writers. He is known primarily for his first novel, The End of My Life (1947), which explores the effects of the world war on his generation and culture. Although he experiments with style in each of his novels, “The Amish Farmer” is representative of the core of his work in its naturalistic realism and emotional detachment. What one critic said about his novel Confessions of a Spent Youth (1960) applies equally to this story: It has a “conversational style that moves easily from quiet humor to unobtrusive lyricism.” In a few sure descriptive strokes, Bourjaily brings his varied characters to life. For example, the men who meet Dawn perceive her as “a wave of heat” with “brute magnetism” and “the look of a woman standing her ground and at the same time enticing you to share it with her.” However, something is “missing from the voice despite the smiles and the flicking tongue. . . .” Another significant feature of this story is its strong narrative thrust. It moves ahead, compelling its readers with it; even the asides to describe the Amish worldview move the plot forward. The frame of the classroom for the “story within the story” fits naturally.

This style is particularly appropriate for Bourjaily’s theme about the reliability and power of perception. The narrator does not have an omniscient point of view; his flaws as a narrator are highlighted by his flawed students. He sets up an interesting case study that readers can apply to both stories while being forced to confront the limitations of one person’s perspective. Bourjaily himself once said that “the process of writing fiction is not a matter of describing directly a reality that one sees. It’s much more often a matter of re-creating a reality which one recalls perhaps imperfectly which one remembers as having been in some way moving, and one almost has to re-create it in order to discover why it is that it still moves one to think about it.”