Wunderkind by Carson McCullers, 1936
The magic trick:
Repeating the word ‘wunderkind’ to make a point about the protagonist’s plight
It’s crazy to think McCullers wrote this when she was only 19. You might even call her a wunderkind. The story is very assured in its methodical pacing and focus on the internal.
I especially liked the simple device of repeating the wunderkind compliment throughout the story. Frances, our protagonist, reminds herself over and over of her teacher’s one-time compliment. It helps her get through her stress and insecurity. It also, in just one simple phrase – one word, really – makes clear to the reader the immense pressure and sadness being laid on this child. What a horrible thing for a girl just finishing junior high to already be looking back desperately at the lost potential of a golden youth. And that’s quite a trick on McCullers’s part.
Mister Bilderbach had given in. Later, after the reviews had said she lacked the temperament for that type of music, after they called her playing thin and lacking in feeling, she felt cheated.
“That oie oie stuff,” said Mister Bilderbach, crackling the newspapers at her. “Not for you, Bienchen. Leave all that to the Heimes and vitses and skys.”
A Wunderkind. No matter what the papers said, that was what he had called her.
Subscribe to the Short Story Magic Tricks Monthly Newsletter to get the latest short story news, contests and fun.