Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Yates prided himself on capturing his characters in revealing secrets about themselves they would have preferred to keep. He achieves that in this story through his selection of vivid sensory images. For example, Carol’s dislike for London is epitomized by the yellow, foul-smelling fog that seeps in through windows and stings eyes. Aunt Judith has a face as pink and fresh as a child’s as she emerges from the shower in a billow of steam. Christine’s room smells of cosmetics and urine, and her droopy cotton underpants strike Warren as “pitifully cheap.”

The form of the story is consistent with Yates’s fatalistic theme. There is action but no plot. The ups and downs are the rhythm of real life, with attractions waxing and waning and conflicts dissolving as quickly as they materialize. The plodding banality of the language matches the plodding banality of the character’s lives. “Well, but wait a second. Listen a minute, OK? Because I really do want to tell you something,” Christine says—wasting two lines of dialogue in the same way she has wasted years of her life. With equal ineptitude, the characters’ lies are thinly told. They lack substance in language as they lack substance in fact. “Wouldn’t it be better if we could sort of try to tell each other the truth?” Warren wonders. The phrase “could sort of try” divulges more about Warren than he would ever openly disclose.

The word “nice” is used repeatedly...

(The entire section is 430 words.)