Style and Technique

Given its dramatic occasion, it might be expected that “Firstborn” would positively teem with metaphors concerned with birth, breeding, newness, and succession. In particular, events seem primed for meditations on the miracle of paternity, the joy of motherhood, and the like. The events of the story, however, preclude such obviousness.

The style of “Firstborn” is essentially plain and direct. Occasionally, however, sentences become flamboyant and plethoric, infused, so it seems, with a surge of energy greater than that required to complete the fundamental task of narrative. The unpredictable occurrence of the latter type of sentence is an effective enactment of a central feature of the story, its “moral stamp” (Larry Woiwode applies the phrase to Tolstoy). This feature is the capacity for erratic change exemplified both by Charles and by Katherine, their ability to grow and, ultimately, to outgrow.

In a sense, because of the random interplay of differing syntactical tensions (from directly informative simple sentences to more complex units conveying difficult emotional conditions), it might be said that the author does not possess a particularly distinctive style. Although obviously a lover of language, Woiwode does not treat language with very much indulgence. He is ready to use a colloquialism as a verbal gem. One reason for this apparent casualness is that it effectively communicates the sense of improvisation and...

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