A Clean, Well-Lighted Place by Ernest Hemingway, 1933
The magic trick:
Brevity brevity brevity
Research (see: Wikipedia) told me that James Joyce hailed “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” as one of the best short stories ever written. Wow, I have to read that, I thought. Twenty minutes later: Wow, what’s the big deal? I thought.
I’ve read it three times and readily admit that James Joyce probably (probably) knows more about literature than I do, but I just don’t particularly care for this story. It’s certainly impressive for the world of ideas it opens up in just a few pages. I’m just not particularly interested in that world of ideas. The themes seem obvious, the presentation feels flat.
Anyway, take it from a writer who tends to ramble: there’s a lot to be said for brevity. And that’s quite a trick on Hemingway’s part.
The old man looked at him. “Another brandy,” he said.
“You’ll be drunk,” the waiter said. The old man looked at him. The waiter went away.
“He’ll stay all night,” he said to his colleague. “I’m sleepy now. I never get into bed before three o’clock. He should have killed himself last week.”
The waiter took the brandy bottle and another saucer from the counter inside the cafe and marched out to the old man’s table. He put down the saucer and poured the glass full of brandy.
“You should have killed yourself last week,” he said to the deaf man. The old man motioned with his finger. “A little more,” he said. The waiter poured on into the glass so that the brandy slopped over and ran down the stem into the top saucer of the pile. “Thank you,” the old man said. The waiter took the bottle back inside the cafe. He sat down at the table with his colleague again.