The Ledge by Lawrence Sargent Hall, 1959
The magic trick:
Using extreme moods and traits to create a complex, memorable, and ultimately sympathetic character in the fisherman
In a story of extreme circumstances, the fisherman character is a study in extremes. He can be extraordinarily cocky, selfish, mean, petty, short-tempered, and stubborn. The ledge also shows him to be extraordinarily generous, brave, kind, and human. The story’s high-stakes suspense is enough to warrant reading, but the memorable character of the fisherman and his relationship to his family keeps it kicking around your mind for a long time. And that’s quite a trick on Hall’s part.
People thought him a hard man, and gave him the reputation of being all out for himself because he was inclined to brag and be disdainful. If it was true, and his own brother was one of those who strongly felt it was, they lived better than others, and his brother had small right to criticize. There had been times when in her loneliness she had yearned to leave him for another man. But it would have been dangerous. So over the years she had learned to shut her mind to his hard-driving, and take what comfort she might from his unsympathetic competence. Only once or twice, perhaps, had she gone so far as to dwell guiltily on what it would be like to be a widow.