‘The Intermediate Class’ by Sam Allingham

The Intermediate Class by Sam Allingham, 2018

The magic trick:

A large cast of characters

I’m reminded of a story by Ben Marcus called “I Can Say Many Nice Things,” in which a man teaches a creative writing class on an ocean cruise. Here, Allingham puts us in an adult education German class. Such a setting requires the creation of several characters – not a simple chore. “The Intermediate Class” makes it look easy though. We get at least four memorable characters here. I’m not sure you get to know any of them particularly well – not even the narrator. But that’s OK. It’s a quantity over quality thing, and the distance between the reader and the character only enhances the story’s tone of miscommunication and loneliness. And that’s quite a trick on Allingham’s part.

The selection:

“Thank you, Claire,” the man said. “What a treat.” He wore a khaki work shirt and pants that zipped at the knee. His beard was silver, but he walked on the balls of his feet, bouncing from left to right.

The woman looked a bit older than Kiril, and was extremely short: barely five feet tall. She took the last empty seat at the table and looked down at her hands, as if wondering how these tiny fingers could produce such beautiful music.

The man took his place at the whiteboard. “I see we have a few new faces,” he said. “So let me explain the rules.” He pointed to a bell in the middle of the table. “When I ring this bell, we will no longer speak English. If anyone speaks English, I will act as if I don’t understand. This forces us to take risks with our German—to experiment together.”

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