‘A Solo Song: For Doc’ by James Alan McPherson

mcpherson, james alan 1968

A Solo Song: For Doc by James Alan McPherson, 1968

The magic trick:

Framing the story in a second-person voice

Great, great, memorable story. McPherson’s narrator relates the story of a former train waiter, Doc, in brilliant fashion. The narrator, an old-school protégé and friend of Doc, addresses his tale to a rookie waiter with the angry passion of the experienced teaching the ignorant. Thing is, that rookie waiter – referred to as “youngblood” – is addressed in the second person, meaning the rookie waiter is the reader. There is no distance between the story and the reader, making its portrayal of race and age and the 20th century all the more powerful. And that’s quite a trick on McPherson’s part.

The selection:

They can’t lay me off for fucking up: I know this business too well. And so they hire you, youngblood, for the summer when the tourists come, and in September you go away with some tips in your pocket to buy pussy and they wait all winter for me to die. I am dying, youngblood, and so is this business. Both us will die toghether. There’ll always be summer stuff like you, but the big men, the big trains, are dying every day and everybody can see it. And nobody but us who are dying with them gives a damn.

One thought on “‘A Solo Song: For Doc’ by James Alan McPherson

  1. This is one of my all-time favorite short stories by Jim McPherson. he was an amazing and gentle man, a kind teacher, and a shrewd observer. the way he places the details in this story is astonishing. the rhythm and cadence of the way the men talk to one another and the tone of the narrator work to create an entire world in just a few pages. this is truly one of the greatest stories in American literature.

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