Some might be surprised that Mavis Gallant gets children, that she can as easily climb inside their view on the world as she does. I’m thinking about stories like About Geneva and The Rejection.
But these children feel apart from the others around them, as though their relationships with other people are less meaningful than the relationships others seem to have (or, amount to less than they’ve dreamed of).
There’s an emotional truth to these stories which makes the age of the characters just another detail. (Because there can be so many kinds of loneliness: the kind in My Heart is Broken, that in An Unmarried Man’s Summer, and that in Varieties of Exile.)
And, yet, simultaneously, the fact that “An Emergency Case” is told from the child’s perspective is also everything. The story turns on what readers understand to be true about Oliver’s situation and what Oliver understands to be true.
“The hospital was in Geneva; that much Oliver knew.”
Most of what he knows, is what is shared with him by the doctor. There is a sense that this is (at least partly) because the nursing staff is not trusted with being able to determine what is and is not helpful for Oliver to understand while he is recovering from the accident.
But, as you will have guessed, if you have ever cared for someone whose incapacity has caused them stress and worry (about what’s happening, what did happen, what will happen next), the care-giving is a much broader responsibility than the transference of information. The doctor is not present all the day (though he does visit daily for a short time) and the nurses must manage Oliver’s confusion and uncertainty (and, eventually, rage) while the doctor is elsewhere.