The Masculine Principle by Frank O’Connor, 1950
The magic trick:
Giving the reader multiple protagonists in one story
This is not my favorite Frankie O. story. It just isn’t. It feels very, very old-fashioned. And yes, I know it’s from the 1950s, but I’m talking old-fashioned like 19th century out of date.
It is, however, a great example of the way O’Connor can populate a story with multiple protagonists. This feels like an ensemble cast. We get to know very quickly – and maybe even become attached to – several characters. We get their point of view, we get inside their thoughts. As a result, the reader has a very good feel for the family and the setting after just one story. It feels like a group you’d want to return to through a series of stories or a complete novel. And that’s quite a trick on O’Connor’s part.
One autumn evening Fanny was coming out of a tea shop on Patrick Street when she almost bumped into Jim. It was one of those occasions when anyone is at a disadvantage, when it depends on the weather or the state of your digestion or, even going back farther, what sort of people your parents were, whether or not you salute a person, and the decision of a lifetime has to be taken on the razor’s edge without a moment of consideration. Maybe these are the only true decisions.
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