Welcome back to ShelfActualization's monthly short story club. This month, we have a dandy. To start, look at this opening line:
"When I found the sewer pipe I was happy, but I couldn't smile."
Beautiful, short, and altogether intriguing. But the rest of the story is what really burns me up. I've been fascinated by this story for years simply because it takes an otherwise ordinary, or even sub-ordinary, situation (that of digging a trench outside of Paris to locate a buried sewer pipe) and converts this ordinary situation into an immense moment of profundity.
All of a sudden down in this ordinary trench with a shovel and pick ax, we are dealing with a myriad of profound human experiences. For example:
- Identity ("The other man was me, a thirty-two year old Italian laborer . . . At midday, between mouthfuls of highly spiced watery soup, we talked for a while in our rudimentary common French, then each returned to his own thoughts in his mother tongue.")
- Sanity ("At the end of the first week the man who was with me started to crack . . . 'Trouve? Tu l'as trouve?' the hoarse voice of a lost man, the common exhalation of the trenches of the century.")
- Death ("I assured him that if the trench were going to collapse it would do so only at night, when the damp came . . . one shouldn't speak of death with one's foot in the grave.")
- Socioeconomics ("But why should a man have to suffer this way? Why in the world should a human being have to earn bread for his children with a noose around his neck?")
- Free Will ("Then I decided that he was no help to me - I would manage better on my own. So, in front of the other workers, I asked [the boss] to let me finish the job alone."
Thus we have an ordinary situation laced with profound themes. And so, my conclusion is this: The Trench masterfully portrays the immensity of a mundane moment in a trench with a shovel under the French sky. And why do we not notice more often the immensity of mundane moments in our own lives?