Shamefully, I’ll raise my hand and admit that I never used to “believe” in short stories. What was the point? By the time you get into it its already over, like finding a tub of ice cream in the freezer only to realise there’s only a couple of spoonfuls left…
But in more recent years I’ve given them a chance, and have been shocked to find that in such a short space of time and in so few words the authors can make you feel so much. With novels, the writer can spin their yarns and stretch out each detail, gradually whetting your need for tidbits of information to keep you hooked; whereas with short stories each word counts. Every word means something and is crucial in getting the author’s message across or conveying certain emotions, snowballing until you reach its conclusion.
In this short story by Sylvia Plath, we meet Mary Ventura. A young girl at the train station with her parents, on the cusp of a long journey. Mary is reluctant to leave, but her parents are extraordinarily eager to be rid of her, justifying their behaviour and quieting her protests under the justification that ‘Everyone has to leave home sometime.’ She is bundled onto the train and so begins her journey to the mysterious Ninth kingdom.
In a manner akin to ‘not letting the lamb see the knife’ the train journey is adorned by luxuries, but there’s a wicked sense of foreboding underlying it all. The gradual icing over of the landscape outside the train; the protests of a fellow passenger in a sudden frenzy of resistance to the conductors escorting her off the train. We’re not sure what awaits Mary at her destination, but we can’t help but feel that it isn’t pleasant.
As the story progresses it becomes much less about a simple train journey and far more about free will – the decisions Mary must make and whether she simply accepts, or resists, her impending fate.