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A Story a Day #2: W. S. Maugham



February 7th, 2020

"Mr. Know-All"

W. S. Maugham


This story begins on an oceanliner sailing from San Francisco to Japan. Our narrator learns he is bunking with a man called Mr. Kelada who he immediately dislikes. Mr. Kelada says he is British but our narrator is suspicious and doesn't like his confidence. He can't seem to get away from him and they spend every meal together. Soon he and others nickname him as Mr. Know-all. One night, they are discussing one woman's pearl necklace and Mr. Kelada, who is in the pearl trade, says it is worth $15,000. The woman's husband scoffs and says she bought it for $18 before leaving New York. So they make a bet where he will examine if the pearls are real. The wife's face goes sheet white and Mr. Kelada declares them, indeed, fake. Later, the woman sends an envelope to his room with the $100 he had lost in the bet.


What this story does well is play on people's perceptions. Because of the narrator's poor view of Mr. Kelada, readers are likely to suspect something bad to happen when in fact, we see him do something rather valiant and smart. It also plays up the idea of revealing information without really saying much. With a few simple exchanges, readers work out that the wife is lying and has been given this real pearl necklace by another man. I think it is useful for writers to allow their readers to piece things together for themselves rather than give them everything upfront.

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