Accident At The Sugarbeet by Tom Drury, 1992
The magic trick:
Prioritizing characterization and tone over plot
“Accident At The Sugarbeet” creates its own wonderful, little, self-enclosed universe. It reminds me of my favorite TV shows in that way. Often I won’t care about the particulars of an episode. I just enjoy spending time in that world, visiting with those characters. This story has the same feel. Things do happen in the story. There is a plot. We have budding romance, even a death. But Drury never dwells on the plot points. He focuses the reader’s attention more on conversations, language and characters than on plot points.
The result is another neat trick I typically associate with television (the British “Office” springs to mind): there is a sense of sadness that quietly hangs over the whole thing. Because we never stop to consider too heavily the emotions, we’re left with just a background feeling of the loneliness in the town.
And that’s quite a trick on Drury’s part.
“Anyway my son Johnny was watching the place for me while I was gone, and when I asked him, he said as far as he had noticed the horses were not walking backward. I said, you mean to stand there and tell me if a horse was walking backward you would’nt notice it? He said he might not.
“Well the boy has personal problems and that’s no secret. As I always tell him, Johnny you missed the boat. I say, Johnny, see that little speck on the horizon? That right there is the boat, which you missed.”