A Tree, A Rock, A Cloud by Carson McCullers, 1943
The magic trick:
Giving the story to one of the characters to tell
This is one of those stories-within-a-story deals. The story opens in a diner with a paperboy about to leave after buying some early-morning coffee. But the story-story doesn’t begin until the odd man at the counter shouts for the boy’s attention and begins to tell his story. This framing device puts the reader in the position of the boy. We are wondering along with him: who is this strange man? Why does he want to talk to me? Why did he just tell me he loved me??!!?? The boy sticks around, despite the strange circumstances, to hear the story, and so will the reader. And that’s quite a trick on McCullers’s part.
The paper boy slid himself up onto the stool. His ear beneath the upturned flap of the helmet was very small and red. The man was nodding at him soberly. “It is important,” he said. Then he reached in his hip pocket and brought out something which he held up in the palm of his hand for the boy to see.
“Look very carefully,” he said.
The boy stared, but there was nothing to look at very carefully. The man held in his big, grimy palm a photograph. It was the face of a woman, but blurred, so that only the hat and the dress she was wearing stood out clearly.
“See?” the man asked.
The boy nodded and the man placed another picture in his palm. The woman was standing on a beach in a bathing suit. The suit made her stomach very big, and that was the main thing you noticed.
“Got a good look?” He leaned over closer and finally asked: “You ever seen her before?” The boy sat motionless, staring slantwise at the man. “Not so I know of.” “Very well.” The man blew on the photographs and put them back into his pocket. “That was my wife.” “Dead?” the boy asked. Slowly the man shook his head. He pursed his lips as though about to whistle and answered in a long-drawn way: “Nuuu—” he said. “I will explain.”