Are These Actual Miles? by Raymond Carver, 1972
The magic trick:
Using the neighbor character to create context and perspective for the reader’s view of Leo
Certainly I’m in the minority, but I don’t care much for this story. It’s thin verging on skeletal. The plot is melodramatic yet oddly miniscule; the characters barely exist. My amateur complaints notwithstanding, the use of the neighbor’s appearances is a nice touch. Ernest Williams lives across the street, and it is his judgmental eye that filters the reader’s take on Leo. Simultaneously, it also shows the reader the guilt with which Leo views himself. Two viewpoints for the price of one. And that’s quite a trick on Carver’s part.
“Things are going to be different!” he calls to her as she reaches the driveway. “We start over Monday. I mean it.”
Ernest Williams looks at them and turns his head and spits. She gets into the car and lights a cigarette.
“This time next week!” Leo calls again. “Ancient history!”
He waves as she backs into the street. She changes gear and starts ahead. She accelerates and the tires give a little scream.