The Mourners by Bernard Malamud, 1955
The magic trick:
Changing the fundamental nature of the story’s conflict at the very end
Great story today.
It’s Kessler vs. the world for most of the story. A landlord wants to evict him, and the two engage in what amounts to a bizarre staring contest. No one blinks. That’s not what winds up determining the ending of this story, though. The conclusion will throw you for a loop. At least it threw me. The landlord has a moment of epiphany and it changes the entire nature of the conflict. And that’s quite a trick on Malamud’s part.
On the morning of the first of December, Ignace found in his letter box a soiled folded paper containing Kessler’s twenty-five dollars. He showed it to Gruber that evening when the landlord came to collect the rent money. Gruber, after a minute of absently contemplating the money, frowned disgustedly.
“I thought I told you to give notice.”
“Yes, Mr. Gruber,” Ignace agreed. “I gave him.”
“That’s a helluva chutzpah,” said Gruber. “Gimme the keys.”
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