Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

As with many writers of his generation, McPherson employs brand names and the titles of songs and television programs to establish time and place and to reveal character. Robert draws conclusions about a married couple in his building based on their garbage: S. S. Pierce cans, Chivas Regal bottles, back issues of Evergreen and The Realist.

Close attention to detail defines McPherson’s style throughout “Gold Coast.” Because Meg Sullivan loves animals more than people, she keeps “little pans of meat posted at strategic points about the building.” McPherson uses many such details to establish Meg’s character: “She was never really clean, her teeth were bad, and the first most pathetic thing in the world was to see her sitting on the steps in the morning watching the world pass, in a stained smock and a fresh summer blue hat she kept just to wear downstairs, with no place in the world to go.” Miss O’Hara is fanatical about cleanliness and puts out “her little bit of garbage wrapped very neatly in yesterday’s Christian Science Monitor and tied in a bow with a fresh piece of string.” Robert wonders where she gets the string and imagines “her at night picking meat-market locks with a hairpin and hobbling off with yards and yards of white cord concealed under the gray sweater she always wore.” This use of details to create both pathos and humor while maintaining a skillful balance between the two keeps “Gold Coast” from being annoyingly sentimental.