(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The narrator begins by questioning whether the events he is about to recount actually occurred. Certainly, Jess says, there was an Uncle Zeno in his Appalachian childhood, but he cannot remember much about him as a person. What lingers in his memory is primarily a voice, telling stories. Uncle Zeno then takes over the narrative.

Zeno’s first story concerns a great hunter, Lacey Joe Blackman, whose dearest possession is an heirloom watch; a retired farmer, Setback Williams, who now spends his time growing apples; and a bear who is protected by the park service, even though he steals Setback’s apples and destroys his trees. The tale has a surprising ending. When the bear finally has to be shot, his body gets caught on a tree limb, and as it swings, Lacey times it with his prized watch and comments that it is slow. Jess’s father, Joe Robert, does not understand the story, but when he asks for an explanation, Zeno simply ignores him.

Jess now describes the efforts of his father, Joe Robert, to compete with Uncle Zeno. Feverishly, Joe Robert searches for stories to tell. He looks in the books around the house for old fairy tales and legends, and he collects anecdotes from people in the community. With a fine flourish, he tries out his discoveries on the family. Joe Robert always spoils even the best stories with his own embellishments and his theatrical endings. In contrast, Zeno seems to be a mere vehicle through which stories tell themselves.

The narrative now returns to Uncle Zeno, who is reminded of Buford Rhodes and his favorite coonhound, who is so smart that he can find a coon whose skin will fit any flat surface he sees. Unfortunately, seeing the ironing board, the hound sets off on an...

(The entire section is 708 words.)