Long Walk To Forever by Kurt Vonnegut, 1960
The magic trick:
Providing a defense of sorts for a character at the beginning of the story
I was not all that comfortable with this story. Newt, the conquering male hero, is pushy and condescending and selfish. There is more than a hint of sexism in Vonnegut’s tone. Maybe I just really don’t like Vonnegut. I think probably that’s it.
Anyway, he does something interesting in the story’s opening paragraphs. Before Newt begins his steadfast assault on Catharine’s will, the narrator assures the reader that in fact Newt “was a shy person.” We are told that his absent manner was simply a cover for this shyness. Maybe it is meant to take some of the edge off of his relentless ness. I’m not sure by story’s end I’d agree with this shyness defense, though. Certainly it doesn’t completely ring true with his behavior. But it’s an interesting way to establish the character. And that’s quite a trick on Vonnegut’s part.
“Could you come for a walk?” he said. He was a shy person, even with Catharine. He covered his shyness by speaking absently, as though what really concerned him were far away – as though he were a secret agent pausing briefly on a mission between beautiful, distant, and sinister points. This manner of speaking had always been Newt’s style, even in matters that concerned him desperately.