Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The fifteen vignettes that make up the story are written in a cool, unsentimental, controlled style. On the surface, events seem casual and leisurely. Underneath them, however, are powerful tensions that build as the story moves toward its ending. To maintain this tension, Harriet Doerr carefully chooses just what information to disclose. Edie’s cool exterior, for example, hides much repressed emotion. Glimpses of her past reveal that two brothers died and that a love was lost to “a girl with red curly hair.”

When the Ransom children press for more information about this girl, Edie says only that she worked at a pub. She proceeds to describe the pub, allowing the children to visualize it as the American stereotype of an English pub. Her cool, clear, factual language masks the emotion behind what happened to the romance. Nevertheless, the tension created by this unresolved conflict remains.

As the story progresses, more and more lies beneath the controlled dialogue. When Ransom recalls Edie to the house to sort through the twins’ clothes and toys after they die in the war, all they can say to each other is “Lovely day.” It is a tense moment because all feelings that surround two lifetimes of death and loss are near the surface. If they were to say more, the surface calmness and their lives would shatter.

It is appropriate that in the final scene in the hospital, Doerr describes Edie impersonally: “She had started to be a skeleton. Her skull was pulling her eyes in.” At this moment, with a lifetime of unspoken feelings, there is almost nothing to say. Doerr’s dialogue reveals that the children even lack the words themselves and must put them in the mouths of prim and proper Lady Alice and Lady Anne. Their “I am sorry” ironically reveals more than any of them can express. The tension created by Doerr’s technique leaves the reader with a chillingly cold feeling of isolation and loneliness, enhancing the theme of the story.