Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Jeremy Larner is writing about a particular young man’s inner turmoil but manages to objectify his story, to dramatize it, to put it “on stage” by projecting his protagonist’s internal conflict onto characters in the outer world. Every scene in the story contains externalized conflict, either physical or verbal. The story resembles William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (1600) in dramatizing an internal conflict through the protagonist’s interactions with a variety of others. Like Prince Hamlet, Willie is struggling with himself. Willie is an idealist who, on arriving at maturity, is coming up against the contradictions of reality. His quarrel with his fiancé is reminiscent of Hamlet’s quarrel with his beloved Ophelia during which he advises her: “Get thee to a nunnery. Why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners?” It is because Larner successfully externalizes his protagonist’s internal conflict that his story is critically acclaimed.

Larner uses tempo to communicate the feeling of internal conflict. He crams many incidents into a short tale. The typical short story contains only one or two scenes and a small cast of characters. Larner crowds his canvas. He even has his protagonist drive from New York to Philadelphia, pausing to engage in a gratuitous confrontation with five teenagers.

Larner flouts all of Aristotle’s hoary unities of time, place, and action. This has the effect of making the reader feel that Willie’s world is likely to fall to pieces and, by inference, that civilization itself teeters on the brink. That was the feeling many people had in the 1960’s. Never before in history had people felt that the earth itself was in danger of obliteration or that the human race might perish in one spectacular Armageddon.

“Oh, the Wonder!” feels unresolved. It leaves the reader feeling confused, frustrated, perplexed, and agitated. This is the author’s intention. He has succeeded in communicating his own mixed feelings. He uses a broad canvas with many minor characters, a great deal of action, a montage of inconclusive scenes full of conflict and acrimonious dialogue, and descriptions of aberrant behavior on the part of his protagonist to invoke the jumbled emotions characteristic of the self-destructive revolutionary, exhilarating 1960’s.