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"...flowers grew not in pastures but in vases on restaurant tables..."

Sharp passage from Sinclair Lewis' short story "Moths in the Arc Light":
To Bates at thirty-five the world was composed of re-enforced concrete; continents and striding seas were office partitions and inkwells, the latter for signing letters beginning "In reply to your valued query of seventh inst." Not for five years had he seen storm clouds across the hills or moths that flutter white over dusky meadows. To him the arc light was the dancing place for moths, and flowers grew not in pastures but in vases on restaurant tables. He was a city man and an office man. Papers, telephone calls, eight-thirty to six on the twelfth floor, were the natural features of life, and the glory and triumph of civilization was getting another traction company to introduce the Carstop Indicator.
Bates is a workaholic - or, more accurately, an officeholic, who spends long hours at the office even when he has no work to do. During those idle and lonely times he stares out his window at the building across the street, watching the comings and goings of the officeworkers there. During the past year or so I've been mulling a novel about the workers in a single office building in Chicago, and wondered about the right way to effectively narrate the interweaving stories of many disparate individuals. Maybe just this vantage point - someone watching from across the street - is the way to go. As I continue to read the Lewis story, I hope I gain some revelations on that problem.

November 13, 2012 in Books, Fiction | Permalink


I've sometimes thought of a short story along those lines. A collection of vignettes, each of which would end when that protagonist meets the next protagonist. Truck driver stops in McDonald's. His story ends then the story of the woman behind the counter begins, until she stops at the dry cleaners, and so on. I figured I would tie it all together thematically by having them all concerned about some common event: a coming storm, a big game, election results being announced, some awful crime. Something like that. Each bringing a different perspective to the common matter. I've never written the story, but it seems like an interesting thing to attempt.

Posted by: Paul Lamb at Nov 13, 2012 6:59:27 PM

Unfortunately, the story gave me no more insight into my question. The narrative soon moved away from the urban/office building milieu with Bates as a detached observer, to a relationship between Bates and a stenographer who worked across the street. With a less than satisfying conclusion.

Posted by: Pete at Nov 14, 2012 9:24:16 AM