‘The Net’ by Robert M. Coates

Coates, Robert 1941

The Net by Robert M. Coates, 1941

The magic trick:

The phrase: the night was a net

Walter, the main character of “The Net,” is unlikeable in pretty much every imaginable way. He is creepy, obsessive, angry, violent, selfish, oblivious, and possibly insane. Other than that, hey, he’s a real nice guy!

Coates builds in a small but crucial strain of sympathy for this devil of a man, and this, for me, was the main takeaway of the story. He writes: “The night was a net, he realized, with its streets and its people walking this way and that along them; what he had to do was to find his way out without disturbing anything or anyone. I love that sentence, particularly “the night was a net” referenced in the story’s title. It’s as if this kind of tragedy could befall anyone. The guilt is stripped away from Walter a little bit. I read the story then not as an indictment of one crazy, selfish man but rather a comment on the perils of modern city life. And that’s quite a trick on Coates’s part.

The selection:

Farther still, down almost to Hudson, he sighted two others, two men, dark against the light from a shop window on the corner. And now there was a girl clipping quickly along on the opposite sidewalk; it was amazing how silently they all moved, and how easy it was not to notice them in the darkness.

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