Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Julia and the Bazooka” is slightly longer than two thousand words, yet much is packed into it—a whole life, in fact, a life of adventure, of addiction, and of death in wartime. It is a short, powerful story whose effect is based, in large part, on Kavan’s precise and beautiful prose.

Much of the power of the story comes from Kavan’s language and imagery, which are simple and direct. A typical sentence in the story (“Julia is also dead without any flowers.”) is simple in structure, spare in language, and present in tense. Within those limits, though, her imagery is rich: “Snow is Julia’s bridal veil, icicles are her jewels.” The dominant imagery in the story is flowers: Julia is picking red poppies in a field (“the front of her dress is quite red”) at the opening, and she dies amid her pots of geraniums (she lies beneath the blanket “in her red-stained dress”) at the end. However, the flower imagery contrasts starkly with the other dominant imagery of military weapons in the story—both the “bazooka” and the “flying bombs” that will kill Julia. The story is also highly symbolic, in the sense of dreams, and the bazooka stands not only for the syringe, but also for the weapon Julia uses in her fight against the isolation of modern life, as a bomb is a weapon in the wars of that life.

Aside from language and imagery, the most notable element in the story is its structure. The story is told in a continuous, overlapping present, and events are linked not by clear temporal causation, but by some discontinuous order only the narrator knows. Similarly, characters and events are not described in any great detail in the story (often they are not described at all), and the cumulative effect of this structure is to render accurately the isolation and fragmentation of contemporary life. Certainly, a number of other writers have used Kavan’s fictional methods (compare the American writers John Barth and Donald Barthelme), but Kavan put her own spare stamp on this style. Kavan’s prose does not call attention to itself, yet it has a powerful sensory effect, from the colors of Julia’s flowers through the cold and heat of her death. The story leaves a lasting impression.