‘The Lesson’ by Jessamyn West

West, Jessamyn 1951

The Lesson by Jessamyn West, 1951

The magic trick:

Tucking the story’s true lesson into the background of the plot

This is one of the best stories I’ve read all year. It tells the story of young John Thomas and his prized cow at the county fair. The magic lies in the untold story, though. The boy’s mother died years before and that loss is reflected throughout in each family member’s actions, feelings and accumulated wisdom. Yet the mother’s absence is nearly never discussed. It’s only implied. And that’s quite a trick on West’s part.

The selection:

When Jo came downstairs ten minutes later, all dressed except putting on the scarf and belt that were hanging over her shoulders, she saw her father, seated at the table in the screen porch where they ate breakfast in summer and reading the morning paper. She was fond of her father, but in one respect he was unsatisfactory: she didn’t like his appearance. He didn’t look fatherly to her. There wasn’t any gray in his black hair or a stoop to his shoulders, and her girlfriends exasperated her by saying, ‘I could go for your old man.’

What do you think about this story? As always, join the conversation in the comments section below, on SSMT Facebook or on Twitter @ShortStoryMT.

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One Comment on “‘The Lesson’ by Jessamyn West”

  1. Jay says:

    I bought a collection of her stories last year (“Except for Me and Thee”) and have been looking forward to digging into it. Even more so now.


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