The Wind And The Snow Of Winter by Walter Van Tilburg Clark, 1944
The magic trick:
Casting doubt on all of the story’s memories
Here we have a perfect story for the depths of winter. It’s also a story about the power and dangers of memory – possibly my favorite topic. Much of the text consists of a series of memories and old stories kicking around the mind of Mike Braneen as he makes his way into Gold Rock for the winter. He has ceased moving forward, figuratively speaking, in his life. He thinks about how he used to lose track of the past in a scattershot of fuzzy memories; he was too focused on the here and now to worry about what happened before. Now, however, all he seems to have left is the past; the memories warm him and help him feel young.
The real trick comes at the end as the reader learns that reality doesn’t totally add up with the math of Mike’s memories. Everything we’ve been reading, all of his memories, are suddenly cast into doubt as to their accuracy. This is not to say he’s lying or even exaggerating. He hasn’t been trying to pretend he is something he is not. It is simply that time does that to us. Mike is old; his memory is hazy; and a series of traditions and repetitious events are getting confused in his mind. That’s just how life goes, as beautifully rendered in this story. And that’s quite a trick on Clark’s part.
Mike came to the summit of the old road and stopped and looked down. For a moment he felt lost again, as he had when he’d thought about the plump blonde waitress. He had expected Canyon Street to look much brighter. He had expected a lot of orange windows close together on the other side of the canyon. Instead there were only a few scattered lights across the darkness, and they were white. They made no communal glow upon the steep slope, but gave out only single, white needles of light, which pierced the darkness secretly and lonesomely, as if nothing could ever pass from one house to another over there. Canyon Street was very dark, too. There it went, the street he loved, steeply down into the bottom of the canyon, and down its length there were only the few street lights, more than a block apart, swinging in the wind and darting about that cold, small light. The snow whirled and swooped under the nearest street light below.