Death Drag by William Faulkner, 1932
The magic trick:
Interrupting the linear story to insert a re-told conversation
OK, so after arguably two of the finest American short stories ever written featured here on the SSMT site on back-to-back days, we were bound for a letdown. You just didn’t expect it to be this precipitous, did you?
In short, this story is not good. Not, not good. There is some anti-Semitism at work, and I really don’t know if it’s racism or “artistic choice.” There is a very strange lack of theme or subtext. It just feels like a very flat story.
This week I’m isolating story structure for its magic. This story isn’t necessarily magical in its structure, but it’s certainly worth puzzling over. So, basically, the story is told by a resident of the town pretty linearly from the start of the action to the end. One big exception, though. In the middle, we jump to a conversation the traveling circus pilot had with the local retired army pilot in town. (Thank goodness we had a retired pilot in town to explain the particulars of the story. Otherwise we’d really be in trouble!) It’s a very awkward structural device, and I’m not quite sure what it adds to the story. It is definitely unique, I’ll say that. And that’s quite a trick on Faulkner’s part.
Captain Warren, the ex-army flyer, was coming out of the store, where he met the tall man in the dirty coverall. Captain Warren told about it in the barber shop that night, when the airplane was gone.