Style and Technique

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 456

Joy Williams once said in an essay that the writer cherishes mystery and does not want to advocate or instruct or disclose but rather to escape the obligations of his or her time by transcending them. She also noted that once a writer knows how to achieve a certain stylistic effect, he or she must abandon that method, for repeated effects become false and mannered. However, Williams’s writing has been criticized by some reviewers as being merely mannerism, that she writes predictably “laconic little slices of life,” each one of which is deceptively inconsequential and indistinguishable from the last one.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

“Train” is a classic example of the minimalist style that became popular after the success of Raymond Carver in the 1970’s. Nothing of major significance seems to take place; a lot of seemingly trivial details are mentioned; and characters seem isolated from one another by misunderstanding and preoccupation. However, the story differs from the bare realistic laconic nature of Carver’s stories by harkening back to the clever precocity of the Glass family of J. D. Salinger more than twenty years earlier. For example, when Jane chides Danica for writing a letter to her dog, she says, “Your writing to Jim Anderson is dumb in about twelve different ways. He’s a golden retriever, for Godssakes.”

As is typical of this kind of story, seemingly inconsequential events and details have thematic rather than plot significance. For example, when Danica and Jane meet a man and woman on the train, Jane asks the man what his line of work is. He says he does not have to do anything for he was injured in Vietnam. When they brought him to the base hospital, they worked for forty-five minutes trying to revive him and then gave up; four hours later he woke up in the mortuary; now he has a good pension from the army. This seeming irrelevant reference is echoed later when Mr. Muirhead talks about the mummies in the museum in Mexico. When the woman tells the two little girls that she does research in human pheromones—chemical substances that lead people to do certain things—this mystery of what makes people do what they do is echoed by Mr. Muirhead’s statement that the secrets of the human heart are without number. Finally, the woman’s definition of a placebo—as something that makes you think you are getting something that will change you but you are not—is echoed throughout the story in the failed relationships of adults.

The final line of the story—“Do you think there’s something I’ve missed?”—is the epiphany remark that pulls all the seemingly inconsequential references together into a final thematic realization for the reader.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Previous

Themes