Kneel To The Rising Sun by Erskine Caldwell, 1935
The magic trick:
Never moving the narrative in any predicted or expected ways
Sometimes you get to a story like this in the anthology you’re reading and you expect disappointment. I didn’t know the story, didn’t even know the author. Didn’t expect much. Whoops. This one floored me. Absolutely knocked me out.
Firstly, its tension begins in the opening paragraph and only intensifies throughout the narrative. Reading this story physically tightens your stomach muscles. It’s better than crunches as a daily exercise. Secondly, it never goes where you think it will, and that’s really the key.
I don’t want to spoil the ending too much, so those still wanting to read the story: beware. I will say that there is a certain prescribed story arc and rhythm I think we readers have come to expect. This story never follows it. Or rather it never finishes the arcs or the clichés in the expected ways. It surprises from start to finish and that bravery makes it one of the most memorable stories I’ve ever read. And that’s quite a trick on Caldwell’s part.
Arch stood back and watched the kerosene flicker out on the ground.
“You know good and well why he got eaten up by the fattening hogs,” Clem said, standing his ground. “He was so hungry he had to get up out of bed in the middle of the night and come up here in the dark trying to find something to eat. Maybe he was trying to find the smokehouse. It makes no difference, either way. He’s been on short-rations like everybody else working on your place, and he was so old he didn’t know where else to look for food except in your smokehouse. You know good and well that’s how he got lost u’ here in the dark and fell in the hog pen.”
The kerosene had died out completely. In the last faint flare, Arch had reached down and grabbed up the singletree that had been lying on the ground where Lonnie had dropped it.
Arch raised the singletree over his head and struck with all his might at Clem. Clem dodged, but Arch drew back again quickly and landed a blow on his arm just above the elbow before Clem could dodge it. Clem’s arm dropped to his side, dangling lifelessly.