‘Under The Wave’ by Lauren Groff

Under The Wave by Lauren Groff, 2018

The magic trick:

Building a character the reader cares about, so that the surprise jolt at the end is more than simply a surface effect

Let’s work backwards with the story today. We’ve got a fairly sensationalist ending. I don’t want to spoil it, but I’ll just say that the last scene is very dramatic in an old TV Movie of the Week kind of way.

Crucially, it’s a moment that is a well earned. By the time we get to the end of the story we really care about these characters. We really feel like we know these characters, so the jolt isn’t just a surface shock. It’s in small details along the way that indicate just how much this woman cares about her new daughter. She drinks a whole pot of coffee just watching her watch cartoons.

I think a lot of us probably recognize our own relationships in those details. Whether it’s from the child’s perspective or the mother’s perspective or both, we felt that way and that connection and that desperate need for love and control. So, yes, by the time we get to the end the story it’s very much an earned emotional beat.

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

The selection:

All they did that day was eat, sleep, watch television, buy groceries. The bagger, a bright old man who had always loved to flirt with the woman, said, Long time no see! And she didn’t answer, only smiled thinly, because she could never, given a hundred lifetimes, have explained to him the distance she’d come.

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