A Short Walk From The Station by John O’Hara, 1962
The magic trick:
Letting the characters explain their own backstories through conversation, not narrative digressions
In many stories, we get a broader view of the characters and situation through narrative breaks in the action that provide backstory. The story stops momentarily and the narrator explains who is who and what is what. This story is slicker than that. The backstory is explained through the action of the story itself. The characters confront the past in a tense, emotional conversation at the core of the story. And that’s quite a trick on O’Hara’s part.
“I find it impossible to believe. By the time the war started it was already a good ten years since we’d had our quarrel. It was one thing to stop speaking to me, but to hate me enough to want me killed, ten years later! I never did anything that bad, Lydia.”
“You did to me, Francis. You as good as killed me. Look at me. What am I? Close to sixty years old, no chance of ever having children and I love children. An apartment over my shop instead of a nice home of my own.”
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This is indeed a great story. It’s the perfect story, for me. I like stories that reveal the core essence of a person through a pinhole.
Wow, I liked the story but maybe should revisit it, given your high praise.