Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Leavitt writes short stories that are economical, suspenseful, and satisfying but still left open-ended. He respects the purpose of the short story, which is to direct all its elements toward a moment of eye-opening awareness, of sudden realization, with a minimum of incidental material and the good sense not to drive the point into the ground.

The economy of this story is illustrated by its series of set pieces: scenes in a waiting room, in a car, at the supermarket, at home, at a party. In quick succession, Leavitt provides glimpses of a frightened woman fighting a losing battle with cancer against a backdrop of banal suburban life. The narrative moves swiftly from Anna’s sudden memory of the six-month deadline, to her being inexorably drawn into the hectic life of family and social obligations, and finally to her chilling encounter with the dwarf girl.

Suspense is created from the beginning when it is revealed that Anna has cancer and is apparently living on borrowed time. As she gazes into an aquarium in the oncology waiting room, she sees herself floating in time, emotionally isolated from those who are closest to her. The question raised is not just how long she will live, but how she will live out the time that is left to her. Leavitt quickly moves through the rest of Anna’s day, as she gets her children to the party, settles the feud between Ernest and Kevin, puts up with Joan Lensky, and finally comes face to face with the dwarf...

(The entire section is 427 words.)