Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story is narrated in the first person by Dade. The style is deceptively simple, and the language is perfectly appropriate to the thoughts of a young person. Introspection and subdued emotion dominate the tone of the story. There is little conversation; much of the story consists of Dade’s reflections. One of the characteristics of the story is its use of abundant detail and precise description. Canin has a wonderful sense of the particulars that make up a scene, shown when he describes the layout of the store, the produce, and the characters. Dade’s description of his father illustrates the author’s skill in description: “He was a short man with direct habits and an understanding of how to get along in the world, and he believed that God rewarded only two things, courtesy and hard work.” The description goes on for several more sentences, but readers can get a clear picture of the father from just this one deft sentence.

Another example of Canin’s style is illustrated in Dade’s comparison of the sky to the sea: “When I looked closely [the sky] was a sea with waves and shifting colors, wind seams and denials of distance, and after a while I learned to look at it so that it entered my eye whole. It was blue liquid. I spent hours looking into its pale wash, looking for things, though I didn’t know what.” This sort of controlled extended metaphor is not unusual. Shorter lively comparisons such as “my thoughts piled into one another” and “apricot-size balls of hail” abound. This carefully crafted story employs a consistent narrative voice and vivid imagery appropriate to a sensitive, observant young man.

To symbolize the conflict between the parents’ views and the son’s inner thoughts as well, Canin uses the grocery store ceiling. The father invents a grid system for easy location of foods, which he paints on the ceiling. A few days later, the mother pastes up fluorescent stars among the grid squares, accurately showing constellations even though they could not be seen because of the bright store lights. It seems useless, but the idea appeals to her nevertheless.