Shingles For The Lord by William Faulkner, 1943
The magic trick:
Using a gap in the narrator’s knowledge halfway through to keep the reader in suspense
It’s Short Story Structure Magic Tricks this week on the blog. “Shingles,” while being a very good story, isn’t a knockout structure wise. The narrator is a boy, and like many stories we’ve looked at for the blog that employ child narrators, the plot hinges on what he doesn’t know. In that sense, structure is crucial to the narrative. The child narrates the action but leaves out what his father does away from the church during the lunch hour. This gap in knowledge drives the suspense and provides the surprise during the final act. And that’s quite a trick on Faulkner’s part.
“Go on and eat,” he said. “Don’t wait for me. Him and his work units. If he wants to know where I went, tell him I forgot something and went home to get it. Tell him I had to go back home to get two spoons for us to eat our dinner with. No, don’t tell him that. If he hears I went somewhere to get something I needed to use, even if it’s jest a tool to eat with, he will refuse to believe I jest went home, for the reason that I don’t own anything there that even I would borrow.” He hauled the mule around and heeled him in the flank. Then he pulled up again. “And when I come back, no matter what I say, don’t pay no attention to it. No matter what happens, don’t say nothing. Don’t open your mouth a-tall, you hear?”