Venus, Cupid, Folly And Time by Peter Taylor, 1959
The magic trick:
Making the reader a co-conspirator
This story is so good it manages to touch on about 56 different themes in its few pages. At its core, though, this is a story about storytelling; how perceptions – erroneous as they may be – dictate judgments among communities and families. Taylor dusts the story in shame, guilt, and innocence lost. The especially brilliant part: he makes the reader feel all those things along the way.
How does he do it? The key thing is having the narrator speak in second person, directly addressing the reader. It’s as if the narrator knows the reader lives in the town and therefore has an intimate understanding of the community. Further, this assumption means that the narrator’s often-harsh judgments and close-minded attitudes are forced on the audience as our own.
The story exposes the community as classist, repressed, and even incestuous, and, because we were implicated from the beginning by the narrator as being part of this town’s judging class, we the reader share the blame.
Without that little touch, the story – still likely great for other reasons – would read as a standard telling of a strange event in a town’s history. The reader would probably think about how perceptions form reality. But by using the occasional second-person technique, Taylor makes the reader feel the guilt of casting constrictive judgments. And that’s quite a trick on Taylor’s part.
They lived in a dilapidated and curiously mutilated house on a street, which, except for their own house, was the most splendid street in the entire city. Their house was one that you or I would have been ashamed to live in – even in the lean years of the early thirties.