30 Stories, Day 22: The Three-Day Blow

For today’s short I visit Hemingway and find that, in addition to oft-taught pieces like “Hills Like White Elephants” and “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” he writes a mean vignette, so he does.

“The Three-Day Blow” by Ernest Hemingway

“It all evens up,” Nick said.

They sat looking into the fire and thinking of this profound truth.

“I’ll get a chunk from the back porch,” Nick said. He had noticed while looking into the fire that the fire was dying down. Also he wished to show he could hold is liquor and be practical. Even if his father had never touched a drop Bill was not going to get him drunk before he himself was drunk.

“Bring one of the big beech chunks,” Bill said. He was also being consciously practical.

Nick came in with the log through the kitchen and in passing knocked a pan off the kitchen table.

Synopsis

Nick Wemedge walks through a bare orchard and a field to his friend Bill’s house. Bill is home alone (his father is out hunting), and for want of something to do, produces a bottle of Irish whisky (note: spelled “whisky” in the story) for he and his friend to mix with water and drink.

The two friends back and forth before a lit hearth, warming themselves against it. Their conversation wanders from baseball, to reading materials, to arguing about which books and authors (Walpole, Chesterton) are better. All the while, they drink whisky.

“Let’s get drunk,” says Bill. “My old man won’t care.”

As the water to whisky ratio gets lower and lower, Bill and Nick discuss their fathers. One is a painter, the other a doctor. Nick says his father has never touched a drop in his life. But then again, he amends—and his father admits this himself—he’s missed a lot in life.

The fire begins to falter. Nick, noticing, gets up to fetch another log from outside. He makes an effort to appear less drunk than he perhaps is, though when he comes in again accidentally knocks a pan of soaking apricots to the floor. He picks them up and slyly delivers the log.

Nick suggests another drink; Bill produces a bottle of Scotch from a liquor locker. Nick volunteers to get more water, and this time—as he passes through the hall—stops to gawk at his reflection in a mirror. His face seems odd; not his own. He smiles; his reflection grins. He winks at it and moves on.

Now the friends are having large shots. “What’ll we drink to?” asks one. “Fishing,” says  the other. “Gentlemen,” says Nick, “I give you fishing.” They toast to fishing, and then to literature, and to Chesterton and Walpole.

Then Bill changes the subject. “You were wise,” he tells his friend, “to bust off that Marge business.” It is evident Nick has had a rather long and involved history with Marge—that they were engaged (“Going to get married,” Nick corrects. “What’s the difference?” says Bill)—and as Bill goes on about how Nick’s life would be different, how he would have to deal with the in-laws, and be tied down, and probably not going fishing tomorrow, Nick begins to feel profoundly empty.

He suggests another drink.

“All of a sudden everything was over,” says Nick, suddenly reflecting. “Just like when the three-day winds come now and rip all the leaves off the trees.” He says he couldn’t help it. Privately, he thinks of the plans he and Marge had made; and now, how they would probably never see one another again. Bill sympathizes and talks it out with him and at length suggests they retire the subject; if Nick thinks about it, he might want to get back into it again.

This thought seems to lift Nick’s spirits: nothing, after all, is irrevocable. Perhaps he can make things right things with Marge. But instead of pursuing the subject aloud, he suggests to Bill that they take up their guns and go join Bill’s father.

They do, and strike down into the orchard. Once they are outside, nothing seems important. It is as if the wind has blown Marge, and all other concerns from Nick’s head. Still, he feels better knowing he can go into town Saturday and see her if he wants to.

Favorite line(s)

There were a couple lines in this story that really resonated:

“Fall for them but don’t let them ruin you.”

(Repeated for emphasis) “All of a sudden everything was over,” Nick said. “I don’t know why it was. I couldn’t help it. Just like when the three-day blows come now and rip all the leaves off the trees.”

Observations

Ah-HA! I have finally found, in three weeks of reading great short stories, an exemplary slice of life/vignette piece. For those who aren’t familiar with the terms (though they are used somewhat interchangeably):

vignette: a brief evocative description, account, or episode

slice of life: a storytelling method that presents a sample of a character’s life, possibly without plot, conflict, or a conclusive ending. Slice of life stories simply present what is, typically without great change or development.

Slice of life fiction goes against a lot of what I’ve been taught as a writer. Mmm…maybe not ‘goes against,’ but veers away from. Plot, I was told. Character development, I was told. Strong ending, I was told. And yet, these disembodied episodes that are slice of life can be incredibly powerful and resonating. I even found myself relating to bits in this story (i.e., wanting to appear more sober than one actually is; anyone who’s had a social drink or two or three can probably identify). That seems a great strength to me: writing about the ordinary is easily relatable, and as such might appeal to a larger audience.

Suddenly I can see why literary magazines are so interested in the slice of life/vignette genre. Okay, I think I have my next short story writing challenge picked out: write a slice of life!

Vocab

peat: a brown, soil-like substance made of decomposed vegetable matter

Mackinaw coat: refers to a heavy and dense woolen water-repellant cloth

Alright, so. Another tale tomorrow.

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