Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Kaplan focuses on sudden moments of recognition in the lives of ordinary people. He looks at how such flashes of discovery, such revelations, may alter, for better or worse, the relationship of his protagonists to those with whom they are deeply bound—in “Comfort,” Laurie’s roommate and her own mother.

The story of Laurie’s casual acquiescence to her friend’s suggestion that she seduce her mother’s lover to prove whether or not he is a jerk like the woman’s previous boyfriends is psychologically devastating to Laurie. The story is told from her perspective because she is the one who quickly matures emotionally. Unlikely as such a story may seem, it does not stretch the reader’s credulity beyond measure. The girls’ obviously liberated lifestyles and attitudes mixed with Michaela’s inclination toward mischief, as shown by her fabricating the story about a beach in Crete, help to keep the story line in character.

Despite his economy of words, the author does not profile cartoon characters. When Michaela wakes up the morning after her seduction, Laurie, although feeling an acute sense of betrayal, is still solicitous about her roommate’s having fresh coffee, and she is apologetic because there is no milk in the house. The reader senses, however, that even Laurie’s not-too-literal threat to kill Michaela if her mother ever finds out about the seduction can barely conceal the emotional storm brewing in her psyche. Accordingly, the use of the word “comfort” in the story’s last sentence could not be more ironic. For it is the continuing sense of discomfort—a tension that is not released—that makes the story arresting for the reader long after the last word is read.