‘Little Man’ by Michael Cunningham

Cunningham, Michael 2015

Little Man by Michael Cunningham, 2015

The magic trick:

Using an introduction full of modern references to welcome the reader into a story that winds up being an old-fashioned fairy tale 

Sadly, not a short story version of the Wayans Brothers film of the same name. Instead it’s a Rumpelstiltskin remix. Yep.

The story is told in the second person, which of course helps to draw the reader into the text. This is especially important when you’re dealing with a world of kings and dwarves.

The real kicker, though, is the introduction. Not only is there no indication of any fairy tale universe, it is positively modern, with mentions of college funds and the accounts payable department at the office. Throw in the second-person narration and it’s very easy for the reader to feel immediately immersed in the story, so that by the time it mutates into a Rumpelstiltskin retelling you’re already invested. And that’s quite a trick on Cunningham’s part.

The selection:

What if you had a child?

If you had a child, your life would be about more than getting through the various holiday rushes, and wondering exactly how insane Mrs. Witters in Accounts Payable is going to be on any given day. It’d be about procuring tiny shoes and pull toys and dental checkups; it’d be about paying into a college fund.

The unextraordinary house to which you return nightly? It’d be someone’s future ur-house. It’d be the place that someone would remember, decades hence, as a seat of comfort and succor, its rooms rendered larger and grander, exalted, by memory. This sofa, those lamps, purchased in a hurry, deemed good enough for now (they seem to be here still, years later)—they’d be legendary to someone.


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