“The Performance” is included in the collection The Travelling Entertainer, and Other Stories. Jolley wrote and published many short stories before her first novel, Palomino, found a publisher; by then she was a popular writer of short fiction. Her stories have appeared in more than twenty anthologies.
“The Performance” contains many of the elements that are characteristic of Jolley’s writing. To begin, she uses a framing device: a narrator who is ostensibly recounting the tale told to him by a confused, anxious man who has just been admitted to the hospital. The narrator tells just enough about himself to give the reader some understanding of his personality and the trouble that has brought him to the hospital (to be “cured” of homosexuality). The way the narrator responds to the man is a kind of performance, a term that is used again and again with a number of meanings; it is the central metaphor of the story.
The structure of the story is also typical of Jolley. The man does not recount events in strict sequence but skips around in time, with one memory reminding him of another. Jolley weaves her story as if it were made up of different strands of yarn—the present, the recent past, the distant past, and the present again, with several permutations of this pattern. It is not until the end of the story that the narrator begins to get a glimmer of understanding of what the man has been trying to tell him.
First, the man talks about his conviction that every work carries its own measure of responsibility, a key idea in the story....
(The entire section is 653 words.)