Everything In This Country Must by Colum McCann, 1997
The magic trick:
Using an exciting opening scene for multiple purposes
This story throws the reader right into the action. The opening sentence places us in a life or death struggle during a flood. So the reader is left to play catch-up and assemble this world while also dealing with the excitement and suspense inherent to that kind of conflict. So that’s a neat way to start a story, right off the top.
But I’d argue the opening is even cooler than you think, because it turns out that the flood scene that appears to dominate the story is actually a bit of a red herring. As the story goes on, we see – though it is somewhat subtly done – that the story is actually more about the narrator coming of age. This is causing distress to her father.
So the flood scene winds up triple duty. It’s a great way to draw the reader into the story. It’s also the driving force for the story’s action. And, finally, it’s a symbol and a metaphor relating to this coming-of-age theme. a selling point
And that’s quite a trick on McCann’s part.
Everyone felt good for saving a life, even a horse life, maybe even Father, but Father was silent in the corner. He was angry at me for asking the soldiers to tea, and his chin was long to his chest and there was a puddle at his feet. Everybody was towel-drying except Father and me, because we had not enough towels.
LongGrasses sat in the armchair and said, Good thing ya had heat lamps, guvnor.
Father just nodded.
Wet, Stevie said, and everybody laughed but not Father. He stared at Stevie and then looked away.
As always, join the conversation in the comments section below, on SSMT Facebook or on Twitter @ShortStoryMT.
Subscribe to the Short Story Magic Tricks Monthly Newsletter to get the latest short story news, contests and fun.