On the Corner of Clerk Street by Rebecca Emin

In my Deal Me In short story reading challenge, I pick fifty-two stories at the start of the year, assign each to a card in a deck of playing cards, then draw one at random every week until I have read them all. Fifty-two cards in a deck, fifty-two weeks in a year, right? The past few years, some other bloggers have joined me in this annual project. They are listed in my sidebar of “Deal Me In 2015 Participants” if you’d like to check out some of the stories they’ve been reading. Also, in the past few years I’ve included a story from Rebecca Emin’s collection “A Knowing Look and Other Stories” in my short story deck. Since I’ve enjoyed those stories, I saw no reason to discontinue this practice in 2015.

(Image found at http://omegalpha.deviantart.com/art/The-Six-of-Hearts-208085225)

Regarding this story, I’m finding it impossible to write much about it without giving too much away, so I’ll Just say a few things and let you discover it for yourself if you’d like to buy/try it. The collection is a mere $2.99 on amazon as of this writing (kindle version)  I’ve posted about a couple of the other stories in this collection before. Here and here if you’d like to take a look.

The “Wait! What?!” Moment

Authors sometimes employ a clever technique to get you to read a story twice. I tend to think of it as the “wait! what?!” moment. They throw a big “reveal” in at the end of their story that makes you reconsider what you’ve read so far, wondering “Did I miss something?” The reading victim then goes back over the story to look for clues or “holes” in the way the author has ’set you up’ for the wait! what? moment. This happened to me with this story, and – on my second “pass” – I came to appreciate the surprising twist even more. At first I thought I had found a problem with the big reveal, thinking, “Aha! Well, if “A” is true, then how do you explain character “B” doing thing “C” on page X!?!?” Then I re-read “page X” and the next couple pages a third time and thought, “Oh, maybe thing “C” wasn’t what I thought it was either…” And so on.

This story called to mind another recent read of mine where, all through the story (or novel, in that case), the reader naturally assumes he knows the gender of one character, only to have his assumption revealed to be wrong near the end. I remember being taken aback then also, looking back through that book trying to find why I had made the assumption I did and looking for slip-ups and failing to find them. I admire authors that are able to trick me like that. There’s a well-known instance of the wait! what? moment in cinema as well in a popular Bruce Willis movie from 1999.🙂

Can you think of any other good examples of the W!W? moment in your reading. How do YOU like being tricked in that manner?

11 Comments

  1. Dale said,

    March 15, 2015 at 5:13 pm

    Off the top of my head, I can’t think of anything I’ve read, but I can think of some other movies -“No Way Out” with Kevin Costner and “Jacob’s Ladder” with Tim Robbins. I don’t think either of those have the same notoriety of the Bruce Willis movie you mentioned.

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    • Jay said,

      March 16, 2015 at 10:00 am

      Ooh, yeah, No Way Out is a pretty good example. I’ve never see Jacob’s Ladder though.

      I’m curious too, Dale, if you remember in our old book club reading a short story once about a “boy” in his room watching out the window at the approach of some new people who were going to buy the house with his room in it. It turns out later that the boy isn’t who we expected him to be. Does that ring any bells with you? I want to say Kim probably selected it for our short story month (because it was one of the shortest stories she could find!) but I may be confusing it with another…

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      • Dale said,

        March 16, 2015 at 6:53 pm

        I remember some very short stories from then; however, that one is not ringing a bell right now.

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  2. Randall said,

    March 15, 2015 at 10:12 pm

    I LOVE to be tricked like that, and like you, I love to go back over the story and see where the gears and levers are that made me read too much (or not enough) into it.🙂

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    • Jay said,

      March 16, 2015 at 10:03 am

      Me too. I like your ‘gear and levels’ analogy too. I remember writing a blog post about the one novel i mentioned (where gender was the surprise) and having to keep going back and removing “she” or “her” and substituting neutral pronouns or finding other ways to say things which didn’t give away the twist. That exercise made me realize it must be a difficult task for the writer to “remove all trace” of her crime. One careless gender-specific pronoun could ruin everything!🙂

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  3. tracybham said,

    March 16, 2015 at 12:29 am

    Sounds like an interesting story. I am just getting back into short stories so I will watch out for that type of story.

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    • Jay said,

      March 16, 2015 at 10:03 am

      I bet in your reading of mysteries you encounter a lot of authors who aim to achieve this kind of “suprise.” (?)

      Like

      • tracybham said,

        March 17, 2015 at 3:00 pm

        There are some like that. The ones I remember usually have unreliable narrators, which I usually fall for. At least I did before the internet, when now reviews tell you that in advance.

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  4. hkatz said,

    March 17, 2015 at 12:31 pm

    I can’t think of one I’ve come across recently with that twist… but now I’d like to read this story🙂

    One thing that doesn’t help is that I have a tendency (more for novels than short stories) to flip ahead in the book and try to confirm a developing suspicion rather than just read my way there, because I get excited and impatient about finding out. I have to actively curb this tendency, as it takes away from the suspenseful build the author has worked to put into their story.

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    • Jay said,

      March 20, 2015 at 7:00 am

      “Flip ahead?!” I don’t know what to say…🙂

      Like

  5. Rebecca Emin said,

    March 24, 2015 at 5:38 pm

    Thank you so much for featuring one of my stories on your blog again, Jay. It was great to hear what you think of it.

    I’ve just had one of those moments myself as I’ve just read “The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy” by Rachel Joyce. Great book.

    Like


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