Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0000547, Sun, 2 Apr 1995 10:34:05 -0700

Re: "Signs and Symbols" (fwd)
From: Roy Johnson <Roy@mantex.demon.co.uk>

The debate over the third telephone call tempts me to
quote (out of sequence) from my study of the stories.


it is impossible to escape the implication that the call is from
the hospital with news of another (and this time successful)
suicide attempt. For if it were another wrong number there would
be no relation at all between these calls and the remainder of
the story. It is not possible to 'prove' that this is the case,
but it is quite obvious that Nabokov is inviting the reader to
supply the missing explanation. Thus the old man and his wife
*do* have one further blow waiting for them, and the second link
between the two subjects (the boy's incurable madness, and the
harshness of the parents lives) is made - in the reader's mind.

As Sean O'Faolin argues, this is a hallmark of the truly modern
short story - courting brevity by leaving the reader to work out
what is being suggested or implied:

"Telling by means of suggestion or implication is one
of the most important of all the modern short story's
shorthand conventions. It means that a short story
writer does not directly tell us things so much as let
us guess or know them by implying them"