‘The Fishing-Boat Picture’ by Alan Sillitoe

The Fishing-Boat Picture by Alan Sillitoe, 1959

The magic trick:

Setting up a bait-and-switch situation but then switching back – making it a kind of double bait-and-switch

The narrator in today’s story makes it a point in the opening paragraph to discuss his storytelling style. It’s simple. He’s simple. Straightforward. He’s not going to trouble about looking up big words in the dictionary, he says.

So, the reader thinks, we’ve got a bit of blockhead here. Surprising then that as the story goes on it turns out that our narrator is not so simple. He’s well-read, thoughtful, and maybe even forgiving.

Then again, just as you’re wrapping your mind around that character readjustment, you realize that the story’s heart lies in that initial impression. This married couple can’t fulfill their potential happiness together, because they are simple. They don’t communicate well. It might not have anything to do with big words in the dictionary necessarily, but there are problems caused by their inability to articulate their feelings.

The narrator was right about his storytelling style, after all. And that’s quite a trick on Sillitoe’s part.

The selection:

I’ve been a postman for twenty-eight years. Take that first sentence: because it’s written in a simple way may make the fact of my having been a postman for so long seem important, but I realize that such a fact has no significance whatever. After all, it’s not my fault that it may seem as if it has to some people just because I wrote it down plain; I wouldn’t know how to do it any other way. If I started using long and complicated words that I’d searched for in the dictionary I’d use them too many times, the same ones over and over again, with only a few sentences — if that — between each one; so I’d rather not make what I’m going to write look foolish by using dictionary words.

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