Style and Technique
The story’s use of four separate viewpoints offers the advantage of a fully rounded, lifelike rendering of Grover, observed both in the present and in memory, and of his family. In section one, he is seen through a third-person omniscient point of view that allows a reader to share an external view as well as the boy’s internal thoughts. In contrast, the mother’s first-person monologue is as limited as she is; she is unable to move beyond her loss. Sister Helen’s perceptions, also limited, are nevertheless far more thoughtful, for she is aware of questions that she cannot answer. Like Grover, Eugene is revealed through an omniscient, external point of view, but with full knowledge of his thoughts and memories.
At the same time, a tightly knit underlying structure can be found in the phrase or visual image that links each section of “The Lost Boy” with the next. For example, at the end of the first section, a buggy laden with a World’s Fair poster passes down the street and flows immediately into the image of the train journey to St. Louis that begins section two. A repeated word links sections two and three, and the final sections are connected by two intense images of the St. Louis house.
Wolfe’s characteristic style, impressionistic realism, is heavy with a wealth of sensory imagery, as when Eugene’s memory of St. Louis returns and he can recall the heat of the sun on his mattress, the coolness of the cellar, and the scent and texture of the grass by the streetcar tracks. Typically unrestrained, his language is often lyrical, and descriptive passages can pulse forth like the spray from the fountain in the courthouse square. Wolfe is a poet of excess; his legendary wordiness is stunning and beautiful, and often truer than truth itself.