The Man in the Black Suit Style and Technique

Stephen King

Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Man in the Black Suit” is a frame story. The frame consists of a decrepit old man resolving to erase his haunting memory of meeting the devil when he was nine years old. Writing it down, he believes, will give him release; and writing it in a book marked Diary and placing it by his bedside will ensure that someday someone will read his story after he is gone. Although this short story is not formally divided into parts, it is as skillfully constructed as a well-made play, the action inside the frame unfolding organically in five stages. First, the milieu of the town of Motton in the early years of the twentieth century is re-created. The world was different then. There were no neighborhoods; farms were separated by long distances and the land was largely forests and swamp. “In those days there were ghosts everywhere.” Next, Gary’s close relationship with his parents is provided along with a vivid word picture of his mother kneading bread in her kitchen. The third stage consists of Gary’s journey through the woods, catching two fine trout, meeting the devil, and narrowly escaping with his life. Stage four is his joyous reunion with his father, and the last stage is their going back to Castle Stream to retrieve Gary’s fishing gear and the father instinctively sensing that something is terribly wrong.

This is a retrospective story, the action occurring more than eighty years in the past, and yet King is able to create such convincing characters and clearly realized settings as to make the story as immediate as the present. Verisimilitude is essential to all literature, but it is especially vital to literature of the supernatural. King achieves this quality of believability by creating a narrator of unimpeachable integrity; by references to familiar places, institutions, and products such as the University of Maine in Orono, Ovaltine, and Dr. Grabow pipes; and, perhaps most important, by a kind of matter-of-fact style of narration. “The Man in the Black Suit” is filled with striking images and metaphors, one of the most memorable being the narrator’s comparison of his body to a child’s sand castle soon to be washed away by the incoming tide.