A Slip in Time (Flashbacks)

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He pull the old double-cross? Sorry, boy. I vividly resented that [my father] should even speak of me to this man, that he should dip the shadow of my personality into this reservoir of slime.

The Art of the Flashback

That my existence at one extremity should be tangent to Vermeer [Peter is smitten with this artist] and at the other to the hitchhiker seemed an unendurable strain. Will the hitchhiker turn out to be truly evil?

Will Peter and his father get to school on time? If not, will Peter be suspended?

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Will his father get fired? All this Updike gives us to chew on. Our flashbacks should have some meat on them, and more: they should be motivated. Make sure flashbacks are motivated.

About A Slip in Time

Since long before Proust bit into that tea-soaked cookie, authors have used mnemonics—sensory phenomenon that assist or help to assist memory—to motivate flashbacks. Updike being Updike, he does so brilliantly:. But relief was approaching. We passed a trailer truck laboring toward the crest so slowly its peeling paint seemed to have weathered in transit.

Here comes the flashback. Note how deftly Updike slips into it by means of not one but two mnemonics, first a sign, then a smell.


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The best flashbacks are always motivated by sensory stimulus. They sold, in their little tangerine-colored boxes, throughout the East; the one time in my life I had been to Manhattan, I had been astonished to find, right in the throat of Paradise, on a counter in Grand Central Station, a homely ruddy row of them.

When writing in past tense, to obviate a flashback, dip into the past perfect. Once having established the temporal shift, you can drop the perfect tense—as Updike does promptly. From here the flashback descends, elevator-like, through layers of scene. The same paragraph continues: In disbelief I bought a box. And the box, opened, released the chill, ectoplasmic smell of Brubaker Street.

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The two cities of my life, the imaginary and the actual, were superimposed. A minor scene, true, but a scene, leading us deeper into the flashback. Same paragraph.

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Up to this moment my father had failed me. Throughout our trip, an overnight visit to his sister, he had been frightened and frustrated. Yet the novel is full of conflicts, thwarted passions and deaths.

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Henry's father, his mother, his sister, one of his brothers, his vivid, outspoken cousin Minny Temple, his dear friend and fellow exile Constance Fenimore Woolson: all have died before the novel's opening date. All are recalled in flashbacks. Such memorial revival of past events gives The Master its peculiarly melancholy quality. The period covered by the novel was one of great productiveness for James the writer, but the crises of his personal life are here represented as all in the past.

Almost every chapter takes us back to some scene from its protagonist's earlier life: a sexually charged but chaste night with his friend Oliver Wendell Holmes; his brother's return from the civil war; his disposal of Constance's clothes in the Venice lagoon after her suicide. We associate the word "flashback" with films and the ways in which they slip from one time back to an earlier time.

The first recorded use of the word from is indeed in the description of a film and only since the 60s has it become common to use it of written stories. Yet in some ways it is an ancient narrative technique.

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Much of Homer's Odyssey, we might say, is told in flashback, as Odysseus narrates his adventures on his journey home from Troy. Over 2 million satisfied customers, we currently offer a fantastic range of , books from rare 19th century antiquarian books, to your childhood favourites to the latest bestsellers!

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