‘Horatio’s Trick’ by Ann Beattie


Horatio’s Trick by Ann Beattie, 1987

The magic trick:

Transferring the burden of character analysis to Nicholas, the protagonist’s son

“Horatio’s Trick” tells the story of Charlotte using a third-person narrator. She is celebrating Christmas with her son, who is home from college. Interestingly, the narrator offers very little description of her character and even less editorial comment, and yet the story very much seems to be centered on consideration of her character. The pointed analysis all comes from her son, Nicholas. It is his character who makes astute observation after astute observation about his mother, for the benefit of the reader. It is his character who questions her lifestyle and her decisions. It is his character who offers us insight – and criticism – into Charlotte’s state of being. I can’t say I was particularly interested in any of it, but it is a neat way to present themes and ideas in a story. And that’s quite a trick on Beattie’s part.

The selection:

“Come on,” Nicholas said. “He didn’t even notice.”

“Did you speak to him?” Charlotte said.

“No,” Nicholas said. “I have nothing to say to him.” He was walking toward their car, at the foot of the drive. She looked up.

“I only asked,” she said.

He was too far ahead of her to hear. He held open the car door, and she got inside. He crossed in front of the car, and she realized that for some reason he was upset.

“All right,” he said, getting in and slamming his door. “You’re wronged. You’re always wronged. Would you like it if I left the engine running and we both went back in and said good night to Father Curnan? Because that would be entirely proper. I could bow and you could curtsy.”

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