‘In The Zoo’ by Jean Stafford

stafford, jean 1964

In The Zoo by Jean Stafford, 1964

The magic trick:

The opening scene with the sisters in the zoo

I love the framing device Stafford uses for this story. Allowing the reader insight into how the sisters live and interact as adults gives tremendous meaning and tragic context to the childhood flashback that lies at the heart of the story. Additionally, the zoo motif sets up the story’s central – and very sad – themes of restriction and performance. And that’s quite a trick on Stafford’s part.

The selection:

This zoo is in Denver, a city that means nothing to my sister and me except as a place to take or meet trains. Daisy lives two hundred miles farther west, and it is her custom, when my every-other-year visit with her is over, to come across the mountains to see me off on my eastbound train. We know almost no one here, and because our stays are short, we have never bothered to learn the town in more than the most desultory way. We know the Burlington uptown office and the respectable hotels, a restaurant or two, the Union Station, and, beginning today, the zoo in the city park.

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