‘A Long Day’s Dying’ by William Eastlake

Eastlake, William 1963

A Long Day’s Dying by William Eastlake, 1963

The magic trick:

Separating the action into two separate, coexisting scenes

I don’t think Eastlake is doing anything particularly complicated here, but it’s still a magic trick worth noting. He splits the story into two scenes with the action happening at the same time in two different places. A boy is sinking into quicksand, fighting for his life. Meanwhile, his father is riding with a friend, arguing about philosophy. Because the reader knows what is happening to the child, it gives us insight into which man is arguing the correct viewpoint. Eastlake then brings the characters together in the concluding scene and performs a final twist on the philosophical debate. He is able to make a point about nature, the West, and the perils of letting racism dismiss Native American culture by keeping the debate separate from the conflict until the end. And that’s quite a trick on Eastlake’s part.

The selection:

Little Sant felt himself sink a little more into the heavy fluid sand. He waved his slim arms, fluttered them like a wounded bird, but he could feel himself being pulled down deeper. No, no, no, he told himself. You are behaving like an Indian, thinking like a Navajo. You’ve been around them too long, like father, like Big Sant says, you should associate more with white boys. But where did the funeral-black horse come from? Why does Luto wait there in the solemn dappled shadows, and where is he going soon?

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