Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Although the story does not contain a plot in the traditional sense, “Summer Evening” does contain a coherent structure and well-developed characterization. It is framed by two incidents that humiliate the Hausmeister: the discussion of his collecting cigarette stubs and the prank of the make-believe passport. Within this frame, Boyle moves in and out of various conversations, in the manner of tracing shots by a motion-picture camera. These conversations take place between a few individuals whose lives are unfolded by Boyle’s delicate touch. The characters are first introduced by third-person description. Mrs. Hatches, for example, is described as one who “flew at her guests with cries of pleasure, her bosom swollen like a pigeon’s in her flowered dress.” The words “flew” and “cries” make vivid Mrs. Hatches’s image as a pigeon. Similarly, Lieutenant Pearson is described as a good-natured, youthful man who has been “larded” since childhood with excessive fat. This quintessential “ugly American” is so fat, in fact, that he has three rolls of flesh overlapping his jacket collar. It is no wonder that Boyle has a strong reputation as a stylist, a manipulator of language in her striking metaphors and her ability to create sharp, vivid pictures.

What the characters say also supports the narrator’s description of them. Mrs. Hatches’s own statements reveal her personality: “That’s twice you-all gave you’ wud you’d come on ovah and play bridge with the Majah and me!” “You promised me that lemon-meringue recipe two weeks ago . . . an’ you nevah kep’ you’ wud!” Not only do these lines portray Boyle’s ear for dialect, but also the trivial, cocktail-party subject matter exposes Mrs. Hatches as the superficial person she is. It is not surprising that she, unlike her husband, achieves no moral growth during the course of the story.

Boyle once stated in a lecture that, more than technique, it is the writer’s profound belief in something that is essential in creating a story. Boyle’s belief in the need for pity and understanding is evident in “Summer Evening.”