Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

It has been argued that “The Pedersen Kid” is William H. Gass’s most traditional story, for not only does it include conventionally established characters, setting, and action, but it also is overtly indebted to Freudian, Christian, and heraldic archetypes and offers easily identifiable themes—the initiation of a young man into experience, the maturation of the artist, and the struggle between man and nature—that place the story comfortably within the province of realistic fiction. What sets it apart from tradition is what makes all of Gass’s writing unique: the luxuriant texturing of the prose itself. Gass has remarked that the only events in his texts are sentences; in other words, the manner of the telling is the tale being told. Whether it be the spare, brittle language, which seems to have been petrified by exposure to the forbidding Dakota territory, or the lush, rolling consciousness of Jorge Segren’s interior world, the physicality of the words is its own justification. Words are by no means mere scaffolding for the story; instead, they are rigorously, lovingly designed to be lingered on.

Indeed, Gass’s style constitutes one of the most distinctive signatures in contemporary American fiction. In a story as relentlessly ambiguous as “The Pedersen Kid,” style is the one thing that unquestionably “happens.”


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bellamy, Joe David, ed. The New Fiction: Interviews with Innovative American Writers. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1974.

Hix, H. L. Understanding William H. Gass. Columbia: University Press of South Carolina, 2002.

Holloway, Watson L. William Gass. Boston: Twayne, 1990.

McCaffery, Larry. The Metafictional Muse: The Work of Robert Coover, Donald Barthelme, and William H. Gass. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1982.

Saltzman, Arthur M. The Fiction of William Gass: The Consolation of Language. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1985.

Unsworth, John. “Against the Grain: Theory and Practice in the Work of William H. Gass.” Arizona Quarterly 48, no. 1 (Spring, 1992).

Vidal, Gore. Matters of Fact and Fiction: Essays, 1973-1976. New York: Random House, 1977.