‘The Creature’ by Edna O’Brien

The Creature by Edna O’Brien, 1973

The magic trick:

Giving the reader a biographical summary of the Creature before going back and filling in some of the emotional details

By sheer coincidence, in the span of just two days I read three stories that each featured protagonists overstepping their bounds so that they could help someone. Or, well, to kind of help someone. Their altruism, in all three cases, is seriously mixed with selfish motivations. Things, as you might guess, don’t go smoothly in any of the stories.

Anyway, I thought it was pretty neat the way the same theme converged on me from three different angles. Not sure what kind of sign that is for me in my life. One that says at the very least I should highlight each story this week on the magic tricks site.

So we start with an interesting storytelling method employed in today’s feature. The narrator gives us the summary version of the Creature’s life. Then, just when you expect the plot to build on this information and move forward, we instead go backward.

The narrator further explores a couple of the key points on the Creature timeline. We just received the Cliff’s Notes version of all this, so we already know how this ends. The deeper dive seems repetitive, but in fact it ups our emotional connection to the character, setting the stage for the story’s end.

And that’s quite a trick on O’Brien’s part.

The selection:

She was always referred to as The Creature by the townspeople, the dressmaker for whom she did buttonholing, the sacristan, who used to search for her in the pews on the dark winter evenings before locking up, and even the little girl Sally, for whom she wrote out the words of a famine song. Life had treated her rottenly, yet she never complained but always had a ready smile, so that her face with its round rosy cheeks, was more like something you could eat or lick; she reminded me of nothing so much as an apple fritter.

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