‘The Trout’ by Sean O’Faolain

The Trout by Sean O’Faolain, 1945

The magic trick:

Perfect opening two paragraphs

I think these opening two paragraphs might be the most effective in any story I’ve ever read. It perfectly establishes the tone and plot. We meet young Julia and see her reliving a beloved annual tradition – scaring herself for fun on a dark walkway in the woods. It’s childish, it’s fun, it’s fantasy, and, it’s very much something that is tied to her past. Even early in the story, though, you can feel the future pulling at our protagonist. The rest of the story tells that that tale, her maturation. And it does so quite elegantly. But the entire thing rests on those first two paragraphs – perfectly setting the stage.

And that’s quite a trick on O’Faolain’s part.

The selection:

One of the first places Julia always ran to when they arrived in G – was The Dark Walk. It is a laurel walk, very old; almost gone wild; a lofty midnight tunnel of smooth, sinewy branches. Underfoot the tough brown leaves are never dry enough to crackle: there is always a suggestion of damp and cool trickle.

She raced right into it. For the first few yards she always had the memory of the sun behind her, then she felt the dusk closing swiftly down on her so that she screamed with pleasure and raced on to reach the light at the far end; and it was always just a little too long in coming so that she emerged gasping, clasping her hands, laughing, drinking in the sun. When she was filled with the heat and glare, she would turn and consider the ordeal again.

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