Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This is less a conventional short story, with dialogue and dramatic climax, than a chronicle presenting an overview of events and characters. Important are not only the literal events but also the biblical version of them in the back of the reader’s mind. The telling, tone, and manner are as much a part of the meaning as is the matter. The biblical version is dismissed as the “official chronicle” commissioned by a king concerned with his “image.” Rosenfeld’s story presumes to show the reader the way things really were, which in modern times means the unsavory underside. The narrator even irreverently describes the Scriptural version as “a bit thick,” evasive, unreliable, and sycophantic. One of its most famous anecdotes is called an “abominable invention.”

This approach makes the omniscient narrator one of the main characters of the story. His style is that of a debunker, an investigative reporter or revisionist historian who is getting behind the formal, official, solemn canonical version of events and setting the record straight, no matter how unsavory the results. A biblical passage is even quoted in order to establish the contrast in styles and in visions of reality and in order to subject it to sardonic questions. In fact, Rosenfeld’s Solomon is often a comic figure; a biblical epic has become a Jewish anecdote about a schlemiel—a fool.