Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Irving Howe, introducing an anthology entitled Short Shorts (1982), claimed that in very brief stories (“In the White Night” is little more than two thousand words long) “situation tends to replace character, representative condition to replace individuality.” Indeed, the reader knows very little about Carol and Vernon and much less about anyone else in the story. The reader knows, for example, how many bedrooms the house has, but not what Carol and Vernon do for a living or what color their eyes are or what political views they hold, if any. Beattie has presented Vernon and Carol as individuals who think of themselves as parents though they do not seem to have any children, and thus the spaciousness of their house, a seemingly insignificant detail, conveys a powerful emotion. Their relationship with the Brinkleys is to a large extent controlled by the contrasting fates of two daughters: What can or cannot be talked about, as well as what is talked about, inevitably finds a referent there. In the context of the evening portrayed, the same might be said of Vernon and Carol’s relationship with each other. The vacuum left by Sharon’s death is the center of these lives. In this way, the story deals with types rather than individuals (Vernon’s mental gymnastics to promote optimism and Carol’s emphasis on visual and emotional connections remind one of male and female stereotyping), but its use of ambiguous characterization instills a mystery about...

(The entire section is 516 words.)