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.
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.’