‘Apple Cake’ by Allegra Goodman

Apple Cake by Allegra Goodman, 2014

The magic trick:

Cutting the action to put the focus on the characters

G is for Goodman.

I need a term for this kind of story – the kind where the first few pages are a slog, but you start to like it more and more as it goes. It’s not that anything super-dramatic happens. Spoiler alert: the woman whose bedside vigil everyone is keeping at the beginning of the story does in fact die by story’s end. But the absence of action puts the focus on the characters. It’s exceptionally well done. So that by the end, the reader feels like they know the family – and the raw sibling rivalry – painfully well. And that’s quite a trick on Goodman’s part.

The selection:

“Actually, she’s taking the semester off,” Melanie said.

“What was that?”

Dan frowned, upset with Melanie for mentioning this. “She says she wants to work with her hands.”

“Preferably in the dirt,” Melanie said. “She wants to be a farmer and write poetry.”

Jeanne couldn’t help laughing. Her breath came short and quick. For a few moments, she couldn’t breathe at all, and then she couldn’t see. With help from her day nurse, Lorraine, Jeanne sat up, and wiped the tears from her eyes.

“I don’t think dropping out is funny,” Dan said.


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