‘The Poteen Maker’ by Michael McLaverty

The Poteen Maker by Michael McLaverty, 1946

The magic trick:

Stirring a gossip-driven impression of the story’s titular character from the opening sentence

The story begins with gossip.

The narrator, reflecting on his childhood, recalls hearing the townspeople talking about his teacher, “Poor man, he’s done . . . Killing himself . . . Digging his own grave!”

It’s such a simple device but oh so effective.

Just like that – the reader takes in the entire story looking for evidence to either confirm or rebut the gossip about the teacher.

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

The selection:

He would write sums on the board and tell me to keep an eye on the class, and out to the porch he would go and stand in grim silence watching the rain nibbling at the puddles. Sometimes he would come in and I would see him sneak his hat from the press and disappear for five or ten minutes. We would fight then with rulers or paper-darts till our noise would disturb the mistress next door and in she would come and stand with her lips compressed, her finger in her book. There was silence as she upbraided us: “Mean, low, good-for-nothing corner boys. Wait’ll Mister Craig comes back and I’ll let him know the angels he has. And I’ll give him special news about you !” – and she shakes her book at me: “An alter boy on Sunday and a corner boy for the rest of the week!” We would let her barge away, the buckets plink-plonking as they filled up with rain and her own class beginning to hum, now that she was away from them.

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