Short Story #252: The Willow Walk by Sinclair Lewis

Title:  The Willow Walk

Author:  Sinclair Lewis


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Jasper Holt is teller at a bank in Vernon.  On a Wednesday, he informs  landlady that he will not be around for dinner.  The landlady assumes he has theater practice but Jasper heads to a near suburb, Rosebank.  Along the way, he buys a box of candy that is in the same of a book and then into a drugstore t buy some books.  He is dismayed when someone recognizes him but keeps moving. He drives to a house in Rosebank.  Two people walking by the house remarks that a religious hermit lives in that house and the brother is rich and lives in a city.  Jasper enters the empty house and switches the book cover of the book that he just bought onto the book-shaped box of candy.  After finishing this, he goes upstairs and comes back down in less elegant clothes wherein it is revealed that he is actually John Holt and Jasper is a mere fiction.  John walks through the town encountering people in a distinctly different and more belligerent manner than his fictional brother.  He attends a meeting of the Soul Hope Fraternity, a religious cult that he is deeply involved with, where in he listens to the different attendees ramble on about the group's greatness. Shortly after the meeting, he makes his way back to Vernon and changes up to be Jasper to the Community Theater were he is lauded for his abilities.  Several days later, he calls in sick to work and says he is disappointed because his brother was supposed to visit that day.  John arrives at the bank and meets with the president.  The president saw some similarities but found them both to be unalike in personality and demeanor.  John warns the president about Jasper's ways but the president waves him off.  When Jasper returns, he explains that his brother, John can be rather square.  He plays sick a little while longer as he sets up plans.  He drives to surrounding areas and at one points, unscrews a spark plug and takes the car to a shop in St. Clair.  He returns to his city.   When he returns to work for a half-day and brings luggage with him, explaining he is leaving right from work.  He sets up the situation in such a way that he loads up his suitcases with money and since he is so charming no one notices.  He leaves and enacts his escape plan which is a mixture of taking a train and being seen in certain areas, all to create the illusion of where he might be going, even though his actual destination is Rosebank.  He eventually makes it back to the house and disposes of the evidence that he ever was Jasper.  John slowly emerges and begins making more appearances in Rosebank and reads the news about Jasper. He visits the president of the bank and asks if he can be of any help.  He insists that the he help the inspector and is quite generous with the searching of his house.  In fact, he becomes so actively involved both the president and inspector want nothing to do with him as he continues onto religious rants.  Time passes and there is less and less to report about the case.  Most have given up and believe that Jasper is dead.  John continues to play the religious zealot and works long hours on his book on Revelations.   However, within all of this, he begins to question his actions and decisions about what he's done.  He begins to realize that though he was not captured, he has to a certain degree, imprisoned himself.  He begins to get antsy and frustrated with his world.  One night at his fraternity's meeting, he explodes at all of them, calling them frauds.  He returns home and doesn't leave for a week, before storming out of the house, wherein he forgets to lock the door.  When he is in various stores, people whisper about him as a hermit.  When he returns home, he finds that his money in the book-boxes has been stolen.  Later, he goes to the president of the bank to explain that he is in fact Jasper, but since it has been so long since he acted as Jasper and he has been by himself for so long, there is nothing that he can do that is believably Jasper.  The president chafes at the idea that he is Jasper.  Finally, John goes to the police who believe he is just a homeless person looking for free shelter.  They tell him to get a job in the sandpits and John asks where they are.


This was a rather fun and well-told story.  In some ways, it reminds me of some of the modern "perfect crime" stories like Oceans 11 or The Italian Job.  However, I also like how Lewis goes into the psychology of John and the ways in which he has essentially formed his own prison as a result of his crime.  In that, there are definitely elements of Poe at work. 

Short Story #252 out of 365
Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  7/23/2014
Source:  The short story can be found at this website.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.

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