‘Probably Shakespeare’ by Jessamyn West

West, Jessamyn 1947

Probably Shakespeare by Jessamyn West, 1947

The magic trick:

Highlighting the extreme highs and lows in the internal monologue of an adolescent girl 

Jessamyn West was a master of representing the adolescent girl’s point of view in her stories. I would imagine that only gets increasingly difficult the older you get, but she never wavered. That she continually went back to that perspective raises some interesting questions of arrested development, but that really isn’t our objective here.

The point is that this story is excellent. Melinda, the protagonist, overreacts to everything. Any change is cause for panic. She is far happier indulging the fantasies in her own mind – what the boy she likes is thinking, how the people around her are assessing her – than interacting with the real world. This, of course, does lead to trouble, but the stakes never seem to match the extremes in her mind. Which I think most people can remember – male or female – about their wonderful teenaged years. And that’s quite a trick on West’s part.

The selection:

Toward the end of the pike was a striped tent and a sign that said: “Madame Rose, $1.00 Learn the Future. Secrets of Love Life Revealed. Arts of Attraction Amplified.”

She had planned going there before, but always at the last minute had been unable to expose her love for Leonard so conspicuously. For that was what it would be: enter and say: “Will Leonard ever love me? Will his eyes ever search for me, his ears listen for my voice?” But perhaps if she kept her mind off it, really hunted bargains with Milton, she could, when she came to that tent, step in, put down the dollar, say, “Tell me… will he ever… ?”

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