Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog by Stephanie Vaughn, 1978
The magic trick:
Plopping the emotional peak of the story dead in the middle
The old story arc plan doesn’t really allow for a structure like the one Vaughn uses here. The conflict is supposed to be introduced, built-built-built and then resolved just before the story’s end. Or at least that’s how I was taught (granted, most of my storytelling lessons came in the form of hour upon hour of “Growing Pains” and “Family Ties” episodes).
This essentially is a biographic portrait of the narrator’s father told in memoir form. The interesting little trick, though, is that the conflict never really is resolved. What’s more, the conflict really isn’t introduced until after the fact. As a result, the emotional peak of the story happens before the reader is totally aware that it is happening. It is clear at the time that the scene in which the narrator races out to the Niagara River and watches her father disappear into the night jumping ice bridges is poignant and important. But it’s only later in the story, when the narrator explains her father’s full situation that we are able to place that scene in context and understand its true power as the story’s emotional epicenter. Interesting way to keep the reader on the hook, working. And that’s quite a trick on Vaughn’s part.
I followed his footsteps in the snow, down the front walk and across the road to the riverbank. He did not seem surprised to see me next to him. We stood side by side, hands in our pockets, breathing frost into the air. The river was filled, from shore to shore, with white heaps of ice which cast blue shadows in the moonlight.
“This is the edge of America,” he said in a tone that seemed to answer a question I had just asked. There was a creak and crunch as two flows of ice below us scraped each other and jammed against the bank. “You knew all week, didn’t you? Your mother and your grandmother didn’t know; but I knew you could be counted on to know.”