David Gates’ “Locals”

Paris Review fall 2014

A wonderfully conversational story by David Gates in the Fall 2014 issue of The Paris Review has me thinking about the many manifestations of effective dialogue in fiction. Gates’ piece, “Locals,” is written in the voice of a general contractor living in a small “hill town” in Western Massachusetts. The vocabulary and cadences of speech are a strength of the story. For example, here is Johnny, one of the narrator’s employees, ordering food at a bar (Johnny has been flirting with a female server, who is suddenly replaced by a less amiable woman):

“‘What happened to your friend?’ Johnny said.

‘She went on break. What can I get you?’

‘Cheeseburger well,’ I said. ‘With fries? And a cup of clam chowder.'”

Heed the idiosyncratic words of the narrator. He inflects a statement as though it were a question. I have heard this described in various circles as ‘uptalking,’ a speech pattern that imbues the simplest declarations with a charming indecision.

As a working (ahem) writer, I must take a page from David Gates and attempt to write more realistic dialogue. This becomes all the more important, now that my memoir, Beautiful On The Outside, enters its 32nd (self-imposed) revision. I’m sure my hypothetical editor (Lorin Stein, cough cough) will appreciate it when all is said and done.

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