At The Bay by Katherine Mansfield, 1921
The magic trick:
Narrative relay race
Like a nice episode of All Creatures Great And Small or maybe Doc Martin, “At The Bay” comforts you on a stressful day and reassures that everything is going to be OK. Well, maybe not everything. There certainly is enough death and stress here to offer a certain bite, but even the undercurrent of melancholy is comforting in its own way.
The particularly cool thing about this story is the narrative handoffs Mansfield employs. Imagine a relay race on a track. A runner does its part, then hands the baton off to the next runner, who does the same, and so on. Thirteen sections here perform a similar function. Each section gives a new character or group the spotlight. Unlike a relay race, some characters return for second legs. Certain characters overlap into other characters’ sections. The overall effect is to make the setting the main character. The reader is left with not just a feeling for one character or one psyche but rather a feeling of what it’s like – you guessed it – at the bay. And that’s quite a trick on Mansfield’s part.
“Would you get me those shoes, mother? And, Beryl, if you’ve finished, I wish you’d cut down to the gate and stop the coach. Run in to your mother, Isabel, and ask her where my bowler hat’s been put. Wait a minute–have you children been playing with my stick?”
“But I put it here,” Stanley began to bluster. “I remember distinctly putting it in this corner. Now, who’s had it? There’s no time to lose. Look sharp! The stick’s got to be found.”
Even Alice, the servant-girl, was drawn into the chase. “You haven’t been using it to poke the kitchen fire with by any chance?”
Stanley dashed into the bedroom where Linda was lying. “Most extraordinary thing. I can’t keep a single possession to myself. They’ve made away with my stick, now!”
“Stick, dear? What stick?” Linda’s vagueness on these occasions could not be real, Stanley decided. Would nobody sympathize with him?
Subscribe to the Short Story Magic Tricks Monthly Newsletter to get the latest short story news, contests and fun.