Style and Technique
Throughout the first third of this story, Stegner employs a precise, realistic style to describe Harris’s return. The evocation of physical details provides a natural springboard for the problem of the story, for once Harris visits the funeral home, the dissonance between his nostalgic recollections and the present is brought into bold relief. Stegner’s writing style changes noticeably as Harris begins to recall his past with Holly. Up to this time, the writing is admirably concrete; it now begins to take on an impressionistic quality, with events no longer precisely fixed in time or space. Further, the writing shows increasing attention to color, revealing Harris’s impressionability: “He remembered her in her gold gown, a Proserpine or a Circe . . . how her hair was smooth black and her eyes very dark blue and how she wore massive gold hoops in her ears.”
The image that arises in the reader’s mind might suggest a portrait by Gustav Klimt—who would be consistent with the names of artists and writers who were revered by Holly’s circle of Jazz Age iconoclasts. This vivid image is in stark contrast with the silver Navajo necklace lying on the dead woman’s black muslin burial gown.
The conflicts of this story are developed through the use of counterpoint. The past is vividly shown as a little shabby, mock-heroic, and phony, while the present is real, clean, and fresh-painted; it is as sweet-smelling as the flowers and body of the dead woman in the parlor, and it is equally sterile. In many ways the writing style is reminiscent of the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald, but where Fitzgerald might have found the bittersweet moment of reminiscence, Stegner’s ending is a bitter recognition by Kimball Harris of his own falseness. Harris remembers himself as an “extraordinary young man, and very little of what had been extraordinary about himself pleased him.”