‘The Rescue’ by V.S. Pritchett

Pritchett, VS 1973

The Rescue by V.S. Pritchett, 1973

The magic trick:

Bringing the subtext into the main text suddenly during the story’s coda

“The Rescue” follows an unusual emotional arc. It moves along for awhile seemingly a portrait of the narrator’s mother and her interesting relationship with an interesting man, Ellis. Well, I shouldn’t say “seemingly,” It is a portrait of the mom, and it peaks during the titular rescue scene at the lake. But as the resolution begins to play out, the reader is jolted by a change of direction. Suddenly, it becomes clear that the story was portraying something very different all along. Now maybe I should’ve seen it there all along. Certainly when you look back through the story there are signs of the narrator’s feelings nestled throughout the text. But it’s a subtle thing, and the change, if you want to call it that, at the end only goes to show how people’s lives and stories are never solitary; they always intertwine and influence. And that’s quite a trick on Pritchett’s part.

The selection:

After he left I said, “He looked as thought he was going to cry.”

“No, his eyes just swell up when he looks at you,” my brother said.

“I’ll say,” said George.

I knew that. Ellis had very large eyes and they did swell whenever he saw me come into the library. I used to make up questions about books until I made him leave his desk and say, “I’ll get that book for you.”

I used to have a special look that said, “You can do better than that” or “Why do you do what you’re told?” And I had another very long look that said, “I know that when you are saying things to mother, you are really saying them to me. You are frightened of me.”


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