A Telephone Call by Dorothy Parker, 1928
The magic trick:
Tucking a dark detail amidst the nervous energy of the narration in order to open the possible backstory up into an entirely new place
It’s not difficult to pick a Dorothy Parker story out of a crowd. Her voice is so specific and dominant, and, if you’re of my opinion, a little overbearing. In this story, though, she does something clever about halfway through. She has her narrator break from her obsessive analysis of her situation for a moment and ask God’s forgiveness. Parker has played the story for laughs up to that point but now suddenly the reader is left to imagine the narrator not as a silly victim of misplaced affections but perhaps as a guilty party who is not worthy of our sympathy. It’s only one paragraph but it casts the story in an entirely different light. And that’s quite a trick on Parker’s part.
Are You punishing me, God, because I’ve been bad? Are You angry with me because I did that? Oh, but, God, there are so many bad people – You could not be hard only to me. And it wasn’t very bad; it couldn’t have been bad. We didn’t hurt anybody, God. Things are only bad when they hurt people. We didn’t hurt one single soul; You know that. You know it wasn’t bad, don’t You, God? So won’t You let him telephone me now?