The Baby In The Icebox by James M. Cain, 1950
The magic trick:
Underpinning the plot with the narrator’s unrequited love for Lura
This could easily be a pulpy kind of story. Kinda funny, kinda exciting. Mix in some adultery, some murder plots and, hey, even a privately run zoo. You’re gonna get a page turner!
But I read this story in a Norton Book Of American Short Stories for a reason. It’s better than mere pulp. The key, I think, is the narrator, a live-in helping hand at the gas station/zoo. He tells the reader the story detail by detail, but he also has a dog in the fight. He makes no secret of his affections for Lura. It’s interesting because the reader never feels like the storytelling is skewed too far in her favor to be believable. The narration always seems reliable. But his unrequited love is ever-present throughout the story. It underpins the entire zany tale with a sense of both sweetness and sadness. And that’s quite a trick on Cain’s part.
She broke off and begin to cry. I took her in my arms. “But then you found this out?” I says. “Is that it?” She nodded her head. It’s awful to have a pretty woman in your arms that’s crying over somebody else.