Monday, November 22, 2010

Review of short story in The New Yorker

From the October 25, 2010 issue

Review on The Tree Line, Kansas 1934 by David Means.

For some context, this story is about an old man who is remembering a stakeout that he was part of in his youth. 

Means uses repetition in an interesting way in this story. Often repetition speeds up the pace of a story, since it is easy for a reader to skip over the word or read it quickly because they are already familiar with the word, moving the reader to move faster through the text. However, Means repeats the number five in the beginning of the story to ground and slow down the story in the first flashback scene of the story to the stakeout. He does this by repeating five at the beginning of short, simple sentences, so the reader is forced to read each description slowly and separately. The description of the scene is not bunched together in long descriptive sentences littered with details and adjectives.  

Five days of trading the field glasses and taking turns crawling back into the trees to smoke out of sight. Five days on surveillance, waiting to see if by some chance Carson might return to his uncle’s farm. Five days of listening to the young agent, named Barnes, as he recited verbatim from the file: Carson has a propensity to fire warning shots; it has been speculated that Carson’s limited vision in his left eye causes his shots to carry to the right of his intended target; impulse control somewhat limited. Five days of listening to Barnes recount the pattern of heists that began down the Texas Panhandle and proceeded north all the way up to Wisconsin, then back down to Kansas, until the trail tangled up in the fumbling ineptitude of the Bureau. For five days, Barnes talked while Lee, older, hard-bitten, nodded and let the boy play out his theories. Five days reduced to a single conversation.

Another point in the story that was impactful was the description of a "gut feeling" and a "hunch." Means describes a gut feeling and a hunch as if they were physical things in the body. I'm not quite sure if one would call it personification of these feelings, but they are definetly described in a way where the reader can physically see these feelings when someone is feeling them which was interesting since feelings are so intangible.

That afternoon, as he crawled back to Barnes, the gut feeling worked its way up his throat and struggled into his head. Note: A gut feeling finally becomes a hunch when it is transmuted into the form of clear, precise, verbal statements uttered aloud to a receptive listener—internal or external—who responds in kind. A hunch twists inside the sinews and bones, integrating itself into the physicality of the moment, whereas a gut feeling can only struggle to become a hunch, and, once it does, is recognized in retrospect as a gut feeling. Before Lee could express his hunch, Barnes wiped his brow with his handkerchief and said, Jesus, Lee, where’d you go?

David Means was born and raised in Michigan. His second collection of stories, Assorted Fire Events, earned the Los Angles Times Book Prize for fiction and a National Book Critics Circle nomination. His third book, The Secret Goldfish, received widespread critical acclaim and was shortlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Prize. Both books have been translated into eight languages. His fiction has appeared The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, Esquire, Zoetrope, The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Mystery Stories, The O. Henry Prize Stories, and numerous other publications. He lives in Nyack, New York, and teaches at Vassar College.

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