Style and Technique
Reynolds Price is a consummate storyteller whose writing has done for Warren County, North Carolina, what Faulkner’s did for the area around Oxford, Mississippi. Price, born and reared in rural Macon, North Carolina, is close to his roots, and he tells his tales in the long monologues that are characteristic of much southern conversation. He captures the conflicts and frustrations of people living in relative isolation, people who go to school, sometimes finish, sometimes do not, and then go on to work in textile mills. The women, as he notes in this story, work in the mills until they marry, then they begin producing children in substantial numbers.
Sarah is a cut above the people in her small town. Her father owned land. He earned eighty-five dollars a month as a station agent. The family, although not rich, had been relatively refined, and its members valued one another. The reader also learns that the family never stopped talking except from fatigue, and Sarah’s lengthy speeches to Ella are excellent examples of the incessant talk that characterizes southerners of the kind Price writes about in this story.
The rhythm of southern speech obviously resonates in Price’s memory, and he records it with a fidelity found in such southern writers as Faulkner, Guy Owen, Thad Stem, and Eudora Welty. His stories are subtle, and in them he drops only the faintest hints at times of the convolutions that are the underpinnings of their action. In the present story, for example, the reader learns that there was no smile when Ella and Sarah recognized each other, and shortly thereafter, the absence of a smile is noted again. The implication is that Sarah’s life has been lived without smiles. She has always done what she must, not what she would have preferred.