Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Beattie’s manipulation of narrative techniques made her one of the most recognized and original writers of the 1970’s, and “Imagined Scenes” gains much of its force from her preoccupation with narrative objectivity and the fragmentation of time’s flow.

There is a reportorial quality about the narrative voice that gives the story a very cool ambience. Events are related, but the internal world of emotions remains outside the narrative’s view except for what the old man and his sister tell about their feelings of anger, rejection, and powerlessness. With this as counterpoint, the narrator, with the objectivity of a camera’s eye, examines the interactions of the younger couple, who do not speak of their inner feelings. This technique effectively creates great emotion by making emotion’s absence so obvious. For example, when first describing the new neighbors, David tells her, “He’s very nice. Katherine and Larry Duane,” and never again does he refer to the woman. That the protagonist does not react to this omission makes her inner torment all the more clear. David touches his young wife only twice during the story: once “on his way out” to the Duanes’ house, and once (his cold cheeks sting her) coming back from the same place. Without consulting her, he gives their plant to the Duanes. He takes to making his own coffee and abandons other of their private rituals. When upset, he refuses to speak to her. The narrative records these...

(The entire section is 491 words.)