Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Blight, Deejo’s never-to-be-finished Beat novel, opens with the line, “The dawn rises like sick old men playing on the rooftops in their underwear.” His second sentence, which runs twenty loose-leaf pages scribbled in ballpoint, shifts the focus away from the sick old men by describing “an epic battle between a spider and a caterpillar.” As Dybek’s narrator of “Blight” points out, “It seemed as though Deejo had launched into a digression before the novel had even begun.” He also wants it known that it is not Deejo’s “digressing that bothered us. That was how we all told stories,” including Dybek himself.

Dybek’s digressions are intentional—a stylistic device that serves to widen the scope of the story much as the characters themselves undergo an expansive growth of their perceptive powers as they migrate out of childhood, backward and forward through adolescence, and into the world of adults. Just as “Blight” stretches and challenges its own boundaries as a story through digression, its characters begin to step further outside—they too begin to challenge, to see a way to step out through—the confines of their world: outside the neighborhood of childhood. The anecdotal nature of this story spools the narrative line outward and sideways at the same time, as if each digression, like each character, is threatening to break out, branching off into its own territory, its own story. Dybek brings it all back together, however, with the recurring refrain: “Back to blight.”

In stories, digressions are often perceived as distractions, a failure on the part of the writer to tell a story straightforwardly, from beginning to end, without breaking the reader out of what one critic calls “the fictional dream.” In “Blight,” Dybek employs a digressive, kaleidoscopic method of storytelling that gives the world and the story’s narrative structure a jazzy, rhythmic, point-counterpoint quality that is more often found in music. “Blight” thus reads much like a song: a rarely heard B-side from a time when “rock and roll was being perfected.”