Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story succeeds in capturing the intensity of the moment by a shrewd, deliber-ate economy of expression. In less than twenty-five hundred words Elizabeth Tallent delineates the action and the motives through a careful use of detail and language. When the narrator describes the five-year diary Jack has given her, she notes that it is “light as a dime.” She means the expression to be a compliment—the diary is easy and convenient—but Tallent has skillfully converted the narrator’s praise of the diary into a moral assessment of the relationship. It certainly is light for Jack, who has no intentions toward the narrator other than sexual play.

The title is another example of the fine choices of language that characterize the story. The title is from a song by Roseanne Cash, recorded in 1983. “No One’s a Mystery” refers to the singer’s refusal to get involved, to fall in love. Jack’s choice of the song on his tape deck suggests that he, too, is unwilling to get involved and that, in truth, the young narrator is no mystery to him—he knows the affair will be short-lived. Conversely, Jack seems to be no mystery to the narrator, whose speculations on their future suggest that security found only in romance or youthful idealism.

The story employs the simple but effective journey motif. Stories in which the protagonist endures a journey and experiences a life-change are among the most profound and universal in literature. The journey is thus more than a physical movement from one place to another, but a spiritual progress of the soul, an engagement of the mind or the understanding. The protagonist thus gains insight by the experience.

The plot of “No One’s a Mystery” centers around a journey—a seemingly aimless, reckless spree across the Wyoming desert. Unlike typical journey stories, the protagonist here does not gain insight at the end. The narrator remains idealistic. It is Jack who has the final line; it is his view that dominates. However, the reader becomes enlightened. The reader, as a kind of third passenger, understands the emptiness of the future for the two.