Too Early Spring by Stephen Vincent Benet, 1933
The magic trick:
Setting up a disaster that shouldn’t be a disaster at all
This probably stretches the boundaries on our children’s lit month at SSMT. It’s a story about teenagers. But it captures something of young love and the innocence of youth so perfectly I thought it was a worthy addition to the month’s schedule. I don’t know of any story that is so purely moral yet not nauseating. Not mushy, as the narrator here says repeatedly in the story.
The narrator sets the reader up at the beginning to expect the worst. This isn’t a particularly uncommon device, right? Oh no, reader, my life is over, nothing will ever be the same because I screwed everything up, he tells us. So of course we read on waiting for the disaster. But in this case, that setup isn’t common at all. When the disaster hits, we are left feeling even more sympathy for the narrator, not less. You feel his heartbreak. And that’s quite a trick on Benet’s part.
We pretended it was our house, after we were married. I’ll never forget that. She’d even brought paper napkins and paper plates and she set two places on the floor.
“Well, Charles,” she said, sitting opposite me, with her feet tucked under, “I don’t suppose you remember the days we were both in school.”
“Sure,” I said – she was always much quicker pretending things than I was – “I remember them all right. That was before Tot Pickens got to be President.” And we both laughed.
“It seems very distant in the past to me – we’ve been married so long,” she said, as if she really believed it. She looked at me.
“Would you mind turning off the radio, dear?” she said. “This modern music always gets on my nerves.”
“Have we got a radio?” I said.
“Of course, Chuck.”
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