Wash by William Faulkner, 1934
The magic trick:
Replaying the opening scene later in the story, from a different point of view the second time
In many ways, “Wash” follows the same structure as yesterday’s featured SSMT story, “A Rose For Emily:” a structure I’m calling the Capital Cursive O – no matter how stupid that sounds. Like “Rose,” “Wash” hits the reader with a cold open, fills in the backstory, loops back around to that opening and then pushes just beyond for its conclusion. I hold “A Rose For Emily” in pretty high regard when it comes to masterful storytelling, but “Wash” might be even better.
The opening scene is deliberately left vague and a little confusing, so that the tension builds and builds throughout the story as the reader waits for the narrative to reconnect – and fully explain – that odd introductory scene. And don’t worry, it all does reconnect. Interestingly, Faulkner plays the opening scene out a second time, once the story gets back there, only he does so from a different perspective. We see the scene not from within the shack but outside the shack from Wash’s point of view. Which of course makes all the difference. That sets the stage perfectly for the story’s denouement and boy, is it a gut punch. And that’s quite a trick on Faulkner’s part.
“Hah,” Sutpen said. “A damned fine colt. Going to be the spit and image of old Rob Roy when I rode him North in ’61. Do you remember?”
“Hah.” He glanced back towards the pallet. None could have said if the girl still watched him or not. Again his whip hand indicated the pallet. “Do whatever they need with whatever we’ve got to do it with.” He went out, passing out the crazy doorway and stepping down into the rank weeds (there yet leaned rusting against the corner of the porch the scythe which Wash had borrowed from him three months ago to cut them with) where his horse waited, where Wash stood holding the reins.