‘The Paperhanger’ by William Gay

Gay, William 2000

The Paperhanger by William Gay, 2000

The magic trick:

Providing just enough backstory for the paperhanger so that the reader can wonder and imagine and theorize his rationale

So much of telling any kind of story rests in striking the right balance between information given and withheld. You don’t want to be confusing but also don’t want to be boring. This is especially important when a murder mystery kidnapping plot is driving the story’s suspense as is the case in “The Paperhanger.”

We get just enough backstory about the paperhanger to make us wonder. We learn of his heartbreak upon the demise of his marriage; and we read of the day the doctor’s wife flirted with him. That’s not a lot to go on. But in fact it’s the perfect amount. The backstory grounds the paperhanger’s story in reality; he isn’t simply some supernatural evil. There is still plenty of mystery, though, as to his motives and character. Plenty for the reader to chew on after the story’s over. It’s dark and scary and excellent stuff. And that’s quite a trick on Gay’s part.

The selection:

She went into the room where she had lost the child. The light was falling. The high corners of the room were in deepening shadow but she could see the nests of dirt daubers clustered on the rich flocked wallpaper, a spider swung from a chandelier on a strand of spun glass. Some animal’s dried blackened stool curled like a slug against the baseboards. The silence in the room was enormous.

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