Story mechanics...

I heard Tobias Wolff read his famous story, “Bullet in the Brain,” at a local college not long ago. Only it wasn’t the old familiar version that’s been collected and anthologized. Wolff abridged the piece—presumably, so his lecture wouldn’t run long—and presented it without making mention of the edits.

I knew the work had been tinkered with, and I’m sure there were others in the audience who recognized the cuts as well and were no doubt as surprised as I was with the omissions.

It's been said a well-made short story is a vehicle composed of many moving parts. A machine whose tolerances are so precisely calibrated that no word or mark of punctuation can be added or subtracted without detracting from its performance.

Which is true.

But even so, you know. There he was in his dark suit and gray turtleneck, the master mechanic—the chop-shop genius—turning a Ferrari into a Bugatti. Right before our eyes. He never broke a sweat, never lost step, never took his foot off the gas. It was cool beans, as a friend used to say. Very cool beans.