This Is My Living Room by Tom McAfee, 1960
The magic trick:
Diminishing the climax by letting the protagonist incriminate himself as a thoroughly terrible human being
At its core this is the story of a white man killing a black man under highly questionable circumstances. McAfee does a nice job of burying the lead, though. The story builds as a character study, with the white man in question talking directly to the reader. He describes for us his family, his work as a storeowner, and, yes, his living room. His behavior and attitudes regarding his wife and daughters are more than enough to damn him in the reader’s mind. This is not a good human being.
And so the story about killing the black man, by the time he relates the anecdote to the reader near the end of the text, isn’t surprising anymore. It sounds like exactly the kind of thing the reader would imagine this character capable of based on what he’s already told us about himself. It seems counterintuitive to diminish the shock value of your climax, but in fact in this case by doing so the story only emphasizes the awfulness of this character. And that’s quite a trick on McAfee’s part.
My two girls are fourteen and sixteen year old. Both of them want to go on dates but I won’t let them. I know what the boys will do, what they want to get out of a girl.
Ellen Jean, the oldest, is a right good-looking girl but sassy and you can’t hardly do anything with her. She started to paint her face at school, so I took her out. I’ve got her working at my store.
I seen her passing notes to Elbert. I seen her get out of his car one night. She said she was going to the picture show by herself. She’s been a born liar and sassy. Like as not he’s had her. Like as not she’s got a baby starting in her belly right now. She’s a sassy bitch-girl and don’t take after he ma or me. Sometimes I wonder if she’s mine.
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