An Amateur's Guide to the Night Style and Technique

Mary Robison

Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Robison is most often considered a minimalist. The minimalist style produces deceptively simple and realistic fiction that, at its best, offers a concentrated and uncluttered narrative. Minimalism reflects the major characteristics of the short story, the genre in which it is most often employed. Both minimalism and the short story rely heavily on figures of speech and the baggage of connotation that comes with each, especially metonymy, in which one thing symbolizes another with which it is associated. Here, the title of this story is the key to the symbolic connection between the narrator’s hobby and her need for direction and answers to puzzling questions about the future.

Some readers may find this story more cluttered than most minimalist fiction, but the clutter of the story represents the clutter that fills these characters’ lives, and the trivia with which many people fill their lives so that they can believe they live full lives. The irony is that their lives are empty shells of existence filled with empty echoes of life. Here the mother and grandfather especially are going through the motions of life but at most are only existing.

In addition to the internal connection between the narrator’s hobby and her role as a high-school graduate, the story reflects the universal situation of graduates poised on the brink of their futures. It also mirrors the duality of choice, the duality of cause, the duality of change, and the duality of consequences.

This final image of a universal truth reflected in a deceptively simple short narrative is the greatest achievement of the minimalist technique as well as that of the genre of the short story. For both offer what appears to be the simplest of stories. Both offer what appears to be the slightest view—a keyhole. Both offer the appearance of realism, and both use metonymy as the major figure of speech. A single event becomes the symbol for a particular human condition. Both minimalism and the short story create an inverse relationship between a singular event and the universal experience, or the trifling incident and the significant occasion.