A Day In The Country by Dan Jacobson, 1954
The magic trick:
Providing social background behind the action
Some stories let the action speak for itself. Those stories, almost without exception, are not set in Apartheid-era South Africa.
This story does not sit by and leave the reader to determine the subtext behind the argument between families that erupts after an incident involving the torturing of a young African child by a white man. There is far too much subtext.
So, as the story unfolds, the narrator explains to us what each person is thinking. We get the social implications behind each action and each comment. Often this is, I think, considered unnecessary over-writing. But here, it works brilliantly. We get the complete complicated picture in all its ugliness.
And that’s quite a trick on Jacobson’s part.
And despite this foolish wrangling, the tension remained where it had been all along, where it had been when it had looked as though there was to be a physical fight. The unspoken words lay heavily on our tongues: Dutchmen, Jews. But they were never used. Racial tensions usually hasten fights, but this time they didn’t, for they were too widely shared. Our fear was theirs: it was almost as though we co-operated with one another to keep the significance of the argument hidden, yet never for a moment forgot it.
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