Summers spoke frequently to the villagers about making a new box, but no one liked to upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box.
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There was a story that the present box had been made with some pieces of the box that had preceded it, the one that had been constructed when the first people settled down to make a village here. Every year, after the lottery, Mr. The black box grew shabbier each year: By now it was no longer completely black but splintered badly along one side to show the original wood color, and in some places faded or stained. This precise and detailed account emphasizes the centrality of the black box to the ancient, outdated rite that is still mandatory and very much alive. The sweep requires a smooth introduction—and later will also need a graceful exit.
But when the sweep takes place a few paragraphs into the story, we must watch its entry and departure. If the transition is too abrupt, the sweep will seem artificial. Summers, keeper of the box , segues into the sweep. Martin and his oldest son, Baxter, came forward to hold the box steady on the stool while Mr.
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Summers stirred up the papers inside it. Notice her almost exact repetition of the words introducing the sweep. Martin and his oldest son, Baxter, held the black box securely on the stool until Mr. Summers had stirred the papers thoroughly with his hand.
Jackson uses the sweep here and the minute, repetitive detail before and after it to elongate the action, heighten the tension and rivet our attention. So, we can think of the transition into and out of the sweep as a contraction-expansion-contraction. Test it by expanding or reigning it in. At the start of an earlier draft, I described how the teachers ignored Casey and lavished attention on his nemesis, Clive, the perfect student.
In the process, I got fired up about why the teachers responded so strongly to Clive.
This is some of the original passage:. Clive was the student they were sure would still appear, even after years of slogging through grade books and writing parents never-delivered notes. Clive was the student who made worthwhile their initial desire to become a teacher, even when they were all but drowning in mountains of paperwork and endless staff meetings and seriously considering quitting two years before retirement, not caring any more about sacrificing their pension. After several drafts, in which I kept going on about the teachers, I saw that this story could easily veer off into their plight and a diatribe about the educational system.
So, bracing for the surgery, I cut out a thousand words and reduced the passage to two paragraphs that centered on Clive. As in the earlier examples, the sweep should always focus on a character, so cut away exposition that digresses—like my paragraph above—in favor of character development. Through the dark years of blank-faced children, their faces blurred with stupid sameness, Clive appeared, a comet in the black.
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Even a brief sweep, done well, can evoke just the scope and range of the story you envision. It had been raining for seven years; thousands upon thousands of days compounded and filled from one end to the other with rain, with the drum and gush of water, with the sweet crystal fall of showers and the concussion of storms so heavy they were tidal waves coming over the islands. A thousand forests had been crushed under the rain and grown up a thousand times to be crushed again.
And this was the way life was forever on the planet Venus, and this was the schoolroom of the children of the rocket men and women who had come to a raining world to set up civilization and live out their lives. Such sweeps instantly involve us, intrigue us and convey the flavor of the story. More concise sweeps can be as effective as longer ones, but of course they must be twined like tendons into the body of the story. Deciding how long to make your sweep is largely a matter of aesthetic judgment and distance. Often only trial and error will reveal the right length.
Walk away, forget it, bury it under your novel-in-progress, go clean out the garage. It was to the detriment of Maupassant's work — although not his bank balance — that his career coincided with a demand from French newspapers for stories of around , words.
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Jostling with news and faits divers , these stories were by necessity laconic and attention-grabbing, and Maupassant, whose severe economy was a model for Hemingway, had a great facility for producing them. The irony, however, is that Maupassant's best works are much longer.
When Bouilhet died another family friend, Gustave Flaubert, took on Maupassant's literary education, counselling his impatient charge to hold off from publishing until he was ready although from several stories crept into print under pseudonyms. The fruit of this long labour was "Boule de Suif", which Flaubert lived just long enough to read and proclaim a masterpiece.
Set during the Franco-Prussian war , the story's first few pages vividly depict a country being overrun, with "fat and flabby businessmen waiting anxiously for the conquerors to come", and the bodies of German soldiers being dragged from rivers, victims of "secret acts of vengeance". This tension between cowardly self-interest and resistance is the bass motif above which Maupassant composes a sour fugue of hypocrisy and cruelty, as a group of Rouennais notables exploit then shun the prostitute of the title, whose hospitality they had previously enjoyed.
The bleakness of "Boule de Suif" is typical of Maupassant, who considered life "brutal, incoherent, disjointed, full of inexplicable, illogical and contradictory disasters". He is fascinated by seamy details, describing lovemaking just so he can get to the dribble of saliva flowing from a lover's mouth the next morning "A Parisian Affair", , or envisioning a barroom as an expressionist horror: "They wriggled their bellies and shook their bosoms, spreading about them the powerful smell of female flesh in sweat.
The males squatted like toads in front of them making faces and obscene gestures" "Femme Fatale", Henry James, with a mixture of envy and distaste, noted that he "fixes a hard eye on some spot of human life, usually some dreary, ugly, shabby, sordid one, takes up the particle, and squeezes it either till it grimaces or bleeds. While all this squalor is as unmistakable as a septic wound waved under our noses, there are darker, deeper currents moving within Maupassant's work. When you read him in quantity, and marinate in his worldview, a more ingrained desolation become apparent.
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In a superficially comic scene from the story "Madame Tellier's Establishment", a group of "local worthies", distraught at finding the brothel closed, walk down to the shore:. Unable to lose themselves in carnality and frolics, the men must confront reality, which Maupassant presents as a yawning void filled with monotonous echoes. Through the shuttered streets of the town at their backs, meanwhile, roams a hostile pack of drunken sailors. It is regrettable that Maupassant should be known less for indelible moments like this, and more for the twist or "trick" ending of "The Necklace" , the final line of which arrives with the boom-tish of a club comedian's punchline.
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That story's great fame has had a distorting effect on the rest his work, abetted by every ignorant commentator — and there are plenty — who has identified it as typical. Regardless of the inaccuracies that surround his reputation, Maupassant's influence is in reality so diffuse that there are few short-story writers of the past century who aren't in some way indebted to him. Often that influence is explicit.
When the narrator of "Love", a short piece about a duck hunt, remarks that "[t]here is nothing that makes one more wary, more uneasy, nothing more frightening sometimes, than a swamp", the story develops an unexpectedly psychological dimension, immediately bringing to mind the swamp Nick Adams so sedulously avoids in Hemingway's "Big Two-Hearted River" "In the swamp fishing was a tragic adventure.