Style and Technique
The story is told from a first-person point of view by a fifteen-year-old girl who has been abandoned and abused. The language reflects the narrator’s world and experience and yet has a youthful, almost innocent, aspect to it that suits her young, though experienced, age. The sentences are straightforward, simple, and evocative. However, the associative manner in which the story is told compels the reader, rather than the narrator, to find the sense and meaning in this young girl’s life. Although not much attention is paid to the physical location of the story, words and phrases commonly used by outcast people of the southern Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia region often are employed. The date that narrator was abandoned and references to heroin as “smack” situate the story in the mid-1970’s.
When the story first appeared, the term “minimalism” was emerging as a contested literary style in American literature. Authors as diverse as Ann Beattie and Raymond Carver were considered to belong to the new group of minimalist writers, writers whose style and narrative technique made use of sparse language, simplified plot constructions, and condensed imagery. Phillips, who began her career as a poet and whose most successful early work was in the genre of the prose poem, has been counted among the minimalists. “Lechery” reflects traits of minimalism in that its action and character delineation are drawn from the fringes of social and economic class and the plot, such as it is, depends less on unified action and more on its reflection of life’s fragmentary and disassociated inconclusiveness. However, from this early piece, Phillips, in her imagery and her deep compassion for her maimed and marginal characters, shows literary traits that she will develop in more complicated and effusive form in her novels, Machine Dreams (1984), Shelter (1994), and Motherkind (2000). Making use of poetry’s tradition of evocative tropes and concentrated imagery, Phillips’s work is minimalist only to the extent that employing these techniques efficiently and effectively frequently results in much shorter, more lyrical fictive forms.