‘Victory Over Japan’ by Ellen Gilchrist

Gilchrist, Ellen 1984

Victory Over Japan by Ellen Gilchrist, 1984

The magic trick:

Playing on a predictable reader reaction to add emotional depth to the story

When the reader learns in “Victory Over Japan” that the narrator’s father is off fighting in World War II the reaction is predictable. You probably thought, “Poor kid. That must be tough.” Or something along those lines. Certainly that’s what Gilchrist expects. She plays off that reaction the rest of the story, surprising the reader at every turn. Nothing in Rhoda’s life is as easy to pinpoint. The relationships are complicated. By the time the reader figures out that maybe this victory in Japan and the ensuing return of her father might be the worst possible thing for our narrator, we see the character and the entire situation far differently than we did at the story’s start. And that’s quite a trick on Gilchrist’s part.

The selection:

When I got home that afternoon I told my mother I had volunteered to let Billy be my partner. She was so proud of me she made me some cookies even though I was supposed to be on a diet. I took the cookies and a pillow and climbed up into my treehouse to read a book. I was getting to be more like my mother every day. My mother was a saint. She fed hoboes and played the organ at early communion even if she was sick and gave away her ration stamps to anyone that needed them. She had only one pair of new shoes the whole war.

I was getting to be more like her every day. I was the only one in the third grade that would have picked Billy Monday to help with that paper drive. He probably couldn’t even pick up a stack of papers. He probably couldn’t even help pull the wagon.

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