Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Wait” does not appear among the ten stories that make up Rick Bass’s first collection, The Watch (1990), but it has much in common with its stories. (Kirby and Tricia, in fact, appear in three stories in that book.) Like many of Bass’s stories, “The Wait” shares what has been called the “minimalist” style. In an article in Harper’s Magazine (April, 1986), Madison Bell lists as characteristics of minimalism a trim or closely cropped style (which applies especially to sentence structure), concern for surface details (as opposed to elaborate or lush description), a tendency to ignore nuances in character portrayal, and “a studiedly deterministic, at times nihilistic, vision of the world.” Bell does not admire the minimalist trend, which can be traced back to Ernest Hemingway, and perhaps even to Anton Chekhov, and which finds adherents in such writers as Raymond Carver, Ann Beattie, and Richard Ford. Nevertheless, this kind of spare realism has become an important mode in American fiction, and it offers an option to the fantasy and Magical Realism that have become especially popular in postmodernist and Latin American fiction.

Most of Bass’s stories fit the definition of minimalism fairly well. One never sees a character vividly in his stories; one rarely knows how a character looks—in contrast to character descriptions in Charles Dickens, for example. There is a flatness to the picture’s finish. For some readers, however, such surfaces are superior to one that might be described as “busy” and overwrought. Certainly, though, this story is neither nihilistic nor deterministic. As in many Chekhov stories, its ending is not absolutely resolved; the door remains open. For many readers, the open ending, the rejection of the pat conclusion, is preferable because it is more lifelike.