Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Although the father’s five-day hospital stay before the operation is presented as a linear event, the majority of the narrative is circular. The reader is later told of events that immediately precede the opening event (driving her father to the emergency room), of events in the distant past (her childhood, her early married life), and even of events in the future (cleaning out her father’s house after his death). The intermingling of past, present, and future allows multiple perspectives to coexist simultaneously and conveys a multidimensioned picture of Janet’s father. The various angles of perception about her father at different stages in her life converge to help nuance and clarify a more balanced, compassionate and nonjudgmental presentation of her father’s character.

The circularity of the narrative functions as a literary parallel to the movement of Jupiter and its moons. The single, focused event of the preparation for surgery by the father—Jupiter—precipitates the narrator’s mental excursions to explore and reevaluate family relationships. These short digressions, explanations, and memories of other events and other dialogues—like Jupiter’s moons—revolve around the main event. Each dialogue during the narrator’s time in Toronto stimulates commentaries or mirror-events from Janet’s past that shed light on and give a more complete picture of a family member. These digressions—these time-travel journeys into the past and even once into the future—are presented as compressed vignettes, revealing a major character trait or expressing a quality in a particular relationship. The father—in his current medical condition—functions as the center of gravity that holds all these satellite digressions together and harmonizes them.

Jupiter and its moons become an ironic symbol of the narrator’s ambiguous relationship with her father. The difficulty of family members who love another despite their differences and yet cannot express their love verbally is highlighted by the last conversation between the narrator and her father before he dies. The discussion is factual and impersonal: a review of some of the moons’ names and their mythological namesakes. It is as removed from earthly life as it could possibly be, but it is something they can share together without the tension of differing perspectives that had so long characterized their relationship.