The Tales We Tell: Perspectives on the Short Story

By Barbara Lounsberry; Susan Lohafer et al. | Go to book overview

10
"Stories with Real Names": Narrative Journalism and Narrative History

Gay Talese

As a boy growing up in the 1940s, I was drawn to writers of fiction, particularly those who had perfected the art of the short story. Among the writers I most admired were John O'Hara, Irwin Shaw, John Cheever, and F. Scott Fitzgerald (the latter's "Winter Dreams," a forlorn tale of romance involving a country club caddie and a lovely young female golfer who gives range to his vision, would thereafter take flight in my fantasies whenever I saw a slender woman swinging a club on the fairways); but the story that most influenced me as a writer was a Carson McCullers selection entitled "The Jockey."

I read this story in an anthology while I was in college during the early 1950s, and what caused me to read it a second time was the realization that, smooth and controlled as was its language and style, its strength was in the reality it evoked--and the fact that I could not tell if McCullers was writing fact or fiction. Her story was to me overwhelmingly real. She made it up, yes; but it read like a feature article in a newspaper, and it occurred to me that I might try to instill some of what she achieved in my own efforts as an aspiring young journalist and aspiring writer. I would not create situations, of course, as McCullers had so magnificently done, nor would I ever knowingly falsify any facts merely to heighten my readers' interest; but my approach to writing nonfiction would nevertheless be structured along lines of McCullers' fictional account of an embittered and overweight jockey. Her story begins:

The jockey came to the doorway of the dining room, then after a moment stepped to one side and stood motionless, with his back to the wall. The room was crowded, as this was the third day of the season and all the hotels in the town were full. In the dining room bouquets of August roses scattered their petals on the white table linens and from

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