Waiting by Amos Oz, 2008
The magic trick:
Telling and retelling different aspects of the same backstory so that the reader’s perception of the entire story universe gradually changes
We’re off to Israel this week, and we begin with back-to-back works from Amos Oz and his remarkable cycle about a fictional Israeli village called Tel Ilan, Scenes From Village Life.
[NOTE: I scheduled this probably two years ago and realize that the timing is unfortunate given current events. I left these to post as originally planned, hoping that perhaps the stories will only ring more powerfully this week. Thursday’s story, “The Swimming Contest,” in particular is a timely reminder that war is never justified and never ends well for anyone.]
“Waiting” has to rank as one of the finest short stories of the century so far. It’s beautiful and haunting.
I love the way the reader’s perception of things changes as the story moves on. The narration tells and retells the backstory, adding more nuance each time. Those details, paired with the increasingly ominous plot, gradually change our view of the protagonist’s character, his marriage, and his town.
So we start the story with respect and maybe even envy for the protagonist. Soon those feelings are replaced with pity and dread.
And that’s quite a trick on Oz’s part.
Over the years, the well-tended front gardens of Tel Ilan had been abandoned to oblivion. Benny Avni saw, here and there, decrepit dovecotes, livestock stables turned into shops, the skeleton of an old truck sunk to its hips in savage growth beside a deserted tin shed or an empty doghouse. Two ancient palms had once grown in his own front garden, but four years ago Nava had insisted that they be cut down, because the swish of their fronds against the bedroom window kept her awake at night and filled her with sorrow.
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