‘The Turn Of The Screw’ by Joyce Carol Oates

The Turn Of The Screw by Joyce Carol Oates, 1971

The magic trick:

Breaking the text vertically into separate columns and point of views

This one is going to sound like a gimmick when I describe it. The story separates the text into two columns on every page. The first column is one man’s perspective. The other column follows the same timeline from a different point of view. In addition to this vertical separation, the story also breaks horizontally into journal entries. This is important, because it allows for the reader to easily take on the entire left column for 2-3 pages until the section break before paging back to read the right column. It’s not as jarring as I thought it would be. In fact, I’d argue it works remarkably well. It helps too that the story fundamentally is about the separation of life and the way ghosts of past decisions can haunt your future. It’s a great spin on Henry James.

And that’s quite a trick on Oates’s part.

The selection:

Like a girl of twelve herself. But

she was twenty-four.

Next week I will be thirty.

Uncle clearing his throat loudly,

spreading a blanket across his knees;

more newspapers. Brings the edge of

his fingers hard across his mustache.

Someone pauses near him. Cane in

hand, jaunty for a man his age, his

beard trimmed to a spadelike shape.

Dark. Neat. He is a gentleman but

nervous – wears a polka-dot bow tie

and a golfing cap. Heavyset in the

thighs and torso.

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