Dawn Of Remembered Spring by Jesse Stuart, 1943
The magic trick:
Like a Kentucky version of Hemingway, Stuart never instructs or dictates. He lays back and lets the story do the talking. This story is an elegant bit of simplicity.
A young boy reacts to the snakebite death of a local boy by attempting to kill every water moccasin he can find. And he does a pretty good job at it. Especially powerful is the way Stuart has the narrator boy reference his own memories of his parents each killing snakes in the past. Their actions inform and justify his actions. Of course then he is surprised when, having killed 53 snakes, his family and neighbors are far more interested in watching two copperhead snakes mate than look at his snake body count. The boy is still angry, and, notably, he does not demonstrate during the story’s conclusion what, if any, lesson he has learned from this incident.
Stuart isn’t here to explain. He lets the ending rest with the same simplicity he used throughout the story. It’s up to the reader to make his or her own assessments, just as it’s presumably up to the narrator to glean his own lessons from the memory of this spring. And that’s quite a trick on Stuart’s part.
What will Mom think when I tell her I’ve killed fifty-three water moccasins? I thought. A water moccasin bit Roy Deer but one’s not going to bite me. I paid the snakes back for biting him. It was good enough for them. Roy wasn’t bothering the water moccasin that bit him. He was just crossing the creek at the foot-log and it jumped from the grass and bit him.