Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Anthologized in Fifty Best American Stories, 1915-1965, “Sound of a Drunken Drummer” is notable for its use of language and makes especially effective use of a limited omniscient point of view. Blattner captures the discordant rhythms of a frenzied mind warped by alcohol and sedatives. Rather than describing Elise’s pain, Blattner makes her readers feel it. Confronting the jumbled, tangled, alcoholic reveries careening through Elise’s head, the reader has the feeling of being inside a tortured, unsettled mind. The descriptions of Elise’s passing out while driving and while walking Rob in the park create a vivid picture of a disoriented mind verging on total loss of control. The story’s sequence of events is hard to untangle on first reading, putting the reader in a position similar to that of an alcoholic unable to keep the days and events straight.

Because of the point of view the author chose, Richard is a less clearly defined character than Elise. Seeing him only when he is with Elise, the reader must guess as to how much his concern for her deterioration is motivated by true caring and how much by the crass motives that she ascribes to him. This technique serves to reinforce for the reader Elise’s insular disconnection from other people. Although there are many references to its San Francisco setting, the story’s themes of sexual control and alcoholism are universal, transcending both location and time.