You simply must read this collection of short stories by William T. Vollmann, as this stuff is 'off-the-hook'! These are ghost stories, but not your s...moreYou simply must read this collection of short stories by William T. Vollmann, as this stuff is 'off-the-hook'! These are ghost stories, but not your standard fare. Oh no, these gems delve into the relationship that we humans have with the notion of Death. And while some of the tales are macabre or even a little over the top, they cause the reader to stop and consider our own unique perspectives on what it means to be alive and what it may mean to be dead.
One of the fascinating things that Vollmann has done with this collection is give us a 'busman's tour', if you will, of how Life and Death are viewed in different regions and cultures around the world. We have stories about the living and the dead in Italy, in the Balkans, in Mexico, in Scandanavia, in Japan, and even in the U.S.
Most of the stories, for me at the age of nearly fifty-nine, became deeply personal and emotional. I have lost family and friends to Death, and there are threads in each of these stories that strummed a very personal heart-string...sometimes quite profoundly. Some of the stories have a historical basis that I was aware of like the modern-day retelling of "Romeo and Juliet" in Vollmann's Escape; or in his story, The Trench Ghost that addresses the horrors of World War I. A true stand-out story--The Faithful Wife--revolves around the deep love, fidelity and commitment that exists within a marriage, and what happens when one spouse is taken by Death. This theme is continued in a Norwegian-based story, The Narrow Passage that is both riveting and breathtakingly horrifying.
My favorite tale of the entire collection has to be When We Were Seventeen. In this tale Vollmann taps what is inside each and every one of us. What happens if you are dying, and maybe only have a few months left to live. What would you do if you could visit with someone important to you that has already died. You are already in a place where you are re-running the film reel that has been your life; you are re-reading the letters that you have received and saved over much of your adult life; you're thinking back to those halcyon days of your youth, the vibrancy of your life, your own sexuality, your own intellectualism, and so on and so forth. First, if you could, would you reach out and summon a dead soul to talk with; and if you could, who would it be; and then what would you talk about? The title of this story--When We Were Seventeen says it all. This story is a masterpiece. In fact, this whole collection of stories is a masterpiece.
I have to say that I came to this book via a review I found on National Public Radio by Julia Keller on July 17, 2014. In this review Ms. Keller went on to say that "...except for two of the stories these tales are pretentious and flabby and self indulgent...the language is ordinary and cliche-infested." Ms. Keller, you could not be more wrong. I can't speak to what didn't 'click' for you, but for this man, nearing his sixth decade of life, this collection of short stories 'ticked a lot of boxes' and I now feel as though I have a much firmer grasp of what it means to experience my own Life and at some point in time, my own Death.
I don't know, but it almost seems that the Shade of Edgar Allen Poe must have leaned over the shoulder of William T. Vollmann as he put pen to paper and crafted this wonderful and somehow important collection of ghost stories. Read them, think about them, feel them...they mean something, something important to each of us. This I do know though, they are not "ordinary", nor are they "pretentious". They are though quite "self-indulgent". But then they are meant to be, I think. These stories--each and every one--speak to the Self in each and every one of us.(less)
A simply terrific collection of short stories by Henry James. What I love about this two volume collection of James's shorts is that they are all pres...moreA simply terrific collection of short stories by Henry James. What I love about this two volume collection of James's shorts is that they are all presented chronologically in the order in which they were written. This really lends itself to seeing how James--the author--matured over the years. This has turned into a summer of the short story collections; as I am now reading two volumes of Edith Wharton's shorts and still have the second volume of James's short stories waiting for me. Fun stuff!(less)
The second volume in the Library of America's collection of Edith Wharton's short stories. This is a terrific set of her short stories written between...moreThe second volume in the Library of America's collection of Edith Wharton's short stories. This is a terrific set of her short stories written between 1911 and 1937, and at something over 800 pages it becomes very easy to simply become immersed in her storytelling craft and find that you've just passed three or four hours reading two or three truly excellent stories. In all honesty I can say that I really didn't encounter a bad one in the lot, and most of them are sparkling gems. As I've said, time and again, as much as I like Edith Wharton's novels, I really do love her short stories. They are, in many respects, timeless, insightful, some even a bit spooky, but all are ever so entertaining.(less)
I recently finished reading Hermione Lee's excellent biography of Edith Wharton, and decided to go back and read most of Edith Wharton's short stories...moreI recently finished reading Hermione Lee's excellent biography of Edith Wharton, and decided to go back and read most of Edith Wharton's short stories again. It had been several years since I'd sat down and carefully read her stories, and the two-volume Library of America collections are simply superb. They contain most of the her stories and are arranged chronologically in the order in which she wrote them.
Edith Wharton may be the very best author of short stories that I've yet encountered, and I think that most readers will enjoy each and every one of them. Some are down-right creepy, some are satirical, others are sad, but all touch on the human experience. Favorites in this first volume include "The Touchstone", "Souls Belated", "Sanctuary", and many others. Frankly, there really isn't a bad story in the whole lot. Wharton is such an intelligent writer and was able to turn her sharp eye on the society around her and somehow seamlessly translate that vision to the printed page to the delight of her readers past, present, and future.(less)
I happened to be up in Ashland, Oregon, this weekend attending the Shakespeare Festival (saw a magnificent rendition of "The Tempest"), and stopped by...moreI happened to be up in Ashland, Oregon, this weekend attending the Shakespeare Festival (saw a magnificent rendition of "The Tempest"), and stopped by a used bookstore, Shakespeare Books & Antiques, for a bit-o-browsing. To my utter delight I discovered a collection of four slim hard-cover editions of Edith Wharton's "Old New York" novellas. These are first editions, published in 1924, are illustrated, and in very good condition. Of course I snapped them up for $12 each! While waiting for plays to start, during intermission, or even while sitting in the park on a lovely afternoon, I read each one of them again simply marveling at the power of Edith Wharton's storytelling and use of language. Each novella is a stand-alone gem in its own right, but truly shine when read in the order she intended--"False Dawn", "The Old Maid", "The Spark", and "New Year's Day". Each novella is set in a different decade of the 19th century, i.e., the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s.
I am ever so glad to have these books on my Edith Wharton shelf now!(less)
Rarely do I not finish a book that I have started. Unfortunately, this was the case with my experience with Eleanor Catton's "The Luminaries". While i...moreRarely do I not finish a book that I have started. Unfortunately, this was the case with my experience with Eleanor Catton's "The Luminaries". While it did have a few intriguing moments and an interesting cast of characters (dare I say, 'Dickensian'), it was simply too disjointed and wandered about in no apparent direction for far too long for me. Also, I must confess that the overall historicity of the novel--the gold-rush days in New Zealand during the 1860s--just felt 'off' for me, not that I'm any expert of that period of time. In all honesty, I truly gave this novel the benefit of the doubt (it is a Booker winner, after all), and tried several times to forge ahead. I even set it down and read a different novel and then went back to "The Luminaries", but to no avail. Finally, two-thirds of the way through it, I gently closed it and carried it downstairs to place it in a pile of books I am donating to my local library. There are simply too many good books out there that I have yet to read to struggle any longer with this one. Obviously, as I've not read it, I'll not be rating it.(less)
This is a devastatingly powerful little novel. Over the past six months I have been slowly, but surely, winding my way through the macabre world that...moreThis is a devastatingly powerful little novel. Over the past six months I have been slowly, but surely, winding my way through the macabre world that is the fiction of Emile Zola. I have always kind of viewed Zola as the 'father' of Naturalism, and Therese Raquin is a prime example. It surely is not hard to make the leap from France and Therese Raquin to the 'Wessex' countryside of Thomas Hardy and Tess of the d'Urbervilles.
There's a dirty, seamy, grimy feel to this novel...actually, come to think of it, to all of the Zola novels I've read so far. There is a side of human life and human nature that Zola wants to thrust right in your face and under your nose, and the reader can't help but feel and smell everything. And no matter how squeamish or sensitive we are, we can't help but keep reading...it is human nature, we want to see the murder occur, the trains collide, the adulterous pair get caught out. Zola is the novelist for the voyeur in each of us. Seriously scary shit here, folks!(less)
An incredibly fascinating look at the role that genetics is now playing is sorting out our human origins. While this particular book is not all that w...moreAn incredibly fascinating look at the role that genetics is now playing is sorting out our human origins. While this particular book is not all that well written, I have to acknowledge that Svante Paabo is clearly at the cutting edge of the science in better understanding the evolution and relationships between Homo sapiens, Homo neanderthalensis, and other potential hominin species that have occupied the Earth. With Paabo, and other geneticists like him, I think we will be learning more and more with each passing year. These are incredibly exciting times to be following paleoanthropology. No longer is paleoanthropology simply the story of what can be gleaned from "stones and bones", but now is really, first-and-foremost, what the genes tell us and supported by the archaeological evidence.(less)