Wednesday, April 20, 2005

One Step Closer by Iain Rowan

One Step Closer” by Iain Rowan, Hardluck Stories, Spring 2005

A man goes to the bank on a whim. He needs a little walk-around money, and there’s the bank. Might as well pop in.

On a normal day, five, ten minutes and he’s on his way, one more check on the list of Things-To-Do. The thing about extraordinary days is that they are pretty normal until something exceptional pops up and punches you in the gut.

That was Ward’s day. Nip into the bank for a little folding money, then be on his way. Only that day an armed bank robber decides to do the same thing in the same bank at the same time. In an instant the normal becomes the extraordinary.

This isn’t a long story, but Mr. Rowan packs it to overflowing, to mix a metaphor. In the first three paragraphs, the bank robbery is already in progress, almost over in fact. Then a flashback. (To those who think flashbacks are a bad idea poorly executed, see this story and be shamed.) The story then proceeds chronologically. Mr. Rowan builds the suspense as gradually as he can in a story of this length. He increases the stakes with a killing and a near miss, then the characters see the hope that it is within seconds of being over. Suddenly, things really go to hell.

Mr. Rowan uses the device of a panicky woman to ramp up the tension, but he does it well without making her panic the centerpiece of the scene and without making her unsympathetic. A nice balancing act.

Another thing I liked about the story is that Mr. Rowan uses smells to help set the scene. Few authors do that. Smell is a powerful sense that can often evoke more vivid memories than any of the other senses. These memories can bring a reader deeply into the story. I’ve never seen the inside of a British bank, but I know the smell of commercial floor polish.

Near the end of the story, Mr. Rowan repeats the first three paragraphs, but in this position they have an emotional impact that they didn’t have at the beginning. This indicates how well the character of Ward was drawn.

And finally, harking back to my latest rant, Mr. Rowan knows his criminals. “We don’t even exist for him, Ward thought. We aren’t even people. There is nothing in this world but himself.”

In short, read this story.


At 2:35 PM, Blogger Aldo said...

This was a great piece. I have always enjoyed how Iain puts inthe action and evokes our feelings too.

There is also the moral people do the right things when they are faced with the impossible situtation? Ward's life has purpose....

At 11:13 AM, Blogger Bob said...

That, Aldo, is what makes Ward seem so real. Iain did a terrific job with this character.

At 6:32 AM, Blogger ibrahim said...

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