Cryptology by Leonard Michaels, 2003
The magic trick:
Setting up a bedroom farce at the center of the story
Michaels’ last story and one of his funniest. I think there is probably a serious subtext in here, but I’d rather just focus on the laughs. The story’s central scene – when Nachman turns up in Helen Farris’ bedroom while she is showering with her husband – is basically a bedroom farce. It is laugh-out-loud funny.
Write a character into a confusing and stressful situation. Then write that situation into some kind of worst case. Comedy! And that’s quite a trick on Michaels’s part.
The open suitcase on the bed was large and old-fashioned, made of yellow leather like a beautiful Gladstone, with straps and metal corners. What he saw in the suitcase told him that Helen and Benjamin were packing for a trip. How nice. They did things together—travelled, showered, bickered, and said vile things about people who had never done them any harm. Their conjugal solidarity was daunting.