Breaking The News by Vladimir Nabokov, 1935
The magic trick:
Establishing a heartbreaking premise immediately, and making the reader feel the burden
The premise, in all its broken heartedness, is established in the opening paragraph.
Friends – and by proxy, us the readers – know that a woman’s son has died in Paris. The woman does not yet know.
The friends feel this tragic burden, and, again by proxy, so does the reader.
It’s a tough story to read.
And that’s quite a trick on Nabokov’s part.
Eugenia Isakovna Mints was an elderly émigré widow, who always wore black. Her only son had died on the previous day. She had not yet been told.
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