I have this quite new boxed set of the Salinger books. All my Salingers were the worse for wear and I “needed” a new set, I decided. I pulled out this...moreI have this quite new boxed set of the Salinger books. All my Salingers were the worse for wear and I “needed” a new set, I decided. I pulled out this one because I am reading short stories and decided that it is possible to read several books of short stories at the same time. I have read Nine Stories a long time ago, maybe before I was in college in the 1960s. For some reason I idealized J.S. Salinger in those days, probably because he was such an evasive recluse. I didn’t know at the time that I would one day have unfulfilled yearnings to be a recluse. Or maybe it was just to be J.D. Salinger.
When I was in college I went to the undergraduate library (I think it was called the UGLI – like ugly) and copied some of his early stories out of original copies of the Saturday Evening Post with Norman Rockwell illustrations on the cover. I lovingly typed these stories out on my Hermes portable and attached them to rather insipid essays about Salinger that did not impress my teachers more than a C+. One kind professor noted that the stories did not add much to my papers. I was so “over the moon” about Salinger that I could have cared less. I kept these papers packed away in some box in the closet for years. (No, they are not still in my parent’s attic.)
It has been such a long time since I have read Salinger that I had one of those remembering-as-you-read experiences. You know, where you remember the story as you read it but not before. And these nine stories are really short and go zip, zip, zip, done. It almost seemed like there had never been a time when I had not read the stories already.
It is fun just to read the titles of the stories without even reading the stories. But do go back and read the stories in order preferably. Unless you have a favorite order you prefer. I firmly believe that stories are placed in a certain order for a reason and that we should give that reason a fair opportunity.
I think Salinger has a good deal of whimsy and is not really all that deep – if you allow him not to be. Others, however, think him quite deep, befitting his fame. I think a lot of people like to try to put him together after they have read ALL of his work – to assess him as a whole. On the other hand, some are satisfied to read ALL the books about him – and there are many – and consider what friends, relatives, lovers, researchers (there are some of each) thought of him. Frankly, if someone has nothing better to do than hang out at the small town post office hoping to get a good picture of Salinger, how could he have anything significant to say about the man? The guy was a special case, that is for sure. And he did mention galoshes more than once. Once was in the story For Esme – with Love and Squalor:
A dozen or so adults were among the pews, several of them bearing pairs of small-size rubbers, soles up, in their laps. I passed along and sat down in the front row. On the rostrum, seated in three compact rows of auditorium chairs, were about twenty children, mostly girls, ranging in age from about seven to thirteen. At the moment, their choir coach, an enormous woman in tweeds, was advising them to open their mouths wider when they sang. Had anyone, she asked, ever heard of a little dickybird that dared to sing his charming song without opening his little beak wide, wide, wide? Apparently nobody ever had. She was given a steady, opaque look. She went on to say that she wanted all her children to absorb the meaning of the words they sang, not just mouth them, like silly-billy parrots. She then blew a note on her pitch pipe, and the children, like so many underage weight-lifters, raised their hymn-books.
Yes, whimsy. But deep only in the larger context of his complete work if you are determined to delve into the Glass family. To belabor the whimsy aspect of Salinger I offer the following from De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period:
All three students assigned to me were English-language students. The first was a twenty-three-year-old Toronto housewife, who said her professional name was Bambi Kramer, and advised the school to address her mail accordingly. All new students at Les Amis Vieux Maitres were requested to fill out questionnaire forms and to enclose photographs of themselves. Miss Kramer had enclosed a glossy eight by ten print of herself wearing an anklet, a strapless bathing suit, and a white-duck sailor’s cap. On her questionnaire form she stated that her favorite artists were Rembrandt and Walt Disney. She said she only hoped that she could some day emulate them. Her sample drawings were clipped, rather subordinately, to her photograph. All of them were arresting. One of them was unforgettable. The unforgettable one was done in florid wash colors with a caption that read: “Forgive Them Their Trespasses.” It showed three small boys fishing in an odd-looking body of water, one of their jackets draped over a “No Fishing!” sign. The tallest boy, in the foreground of the picture, appeared to have rickets in one leg and elephantiasis in the other – an effect, it was clear, that Miss Kramer had deliberately used to show that the boy was standing with his feet slightly apart.
This is surely Salinger at his whimsyest!
I have been surprised at how enjoyable it has been to read Salinger after all these years. I am looking forward to reading the other books of the Big Four. My recollection is that I thought that they were somewhat obscure when I read them years ago – not enticing – but that I have continued to be enticed by his manufactured mystery over the years. He has been more of an icon than an award winner.
Years ago I gave Nine Stories three stars. After this read I have no problem awarding four stars and would probably have gone for five stars if I was more impressed with its literary stature. While I loved reading it, I was not overly impressed with its depth. This book gets a good solid 4.19 average of GR ratings. I suspect it gets a lot a reflected glory from The Catcher in the Rye.
I look forward to dipping back into Salinger – his writing and his mystery/history – in the coming months. I wonder if I will be able to overcome the aura that he brings with him from the past. He definitely has a place in my emotions more than in my rational self!
When people want to talk about the depth of Salinger, I guess they always want to talk about the “Vendantic theory of reincarnation.” Me, I just liked the whimsy. You can go to http://www.shmoop.com/teddy-book/mort... if you want depth. (less)
Eudora Alice Welty (April 13, 1909 – July 23, 2001) was an American author of short stories and novels about the American South. Her book, The Optimist's Daughter, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1973. Welty was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, among numerous awards. She was the first living author to have her works published by the Library of America. Her house in Jackson, Mississippi, is a National Historic Landmark and open to the public as a museum. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eudora_W...
Eudora Welty began writing in the 1930s. I read that Eudora Welty's central themes include the oppression of blacks and women, and the stupefying religiosity of the south. She portrays life in rural Mississippi. She shows the heart and the beauty but also the dysfunction and even violence lurking just below the surface of seemingly normal families and towns.
I need an annotated version of Eudora Welty to understand all her references. The more you bring to your reading, the more you will take away. Welty writes her stories chock full of meaning but you can also just try to enjoy the words, the cadence, the moods established. Or you can rely on Google to help you see behind the words. (less)
I love short stories. So when I learned that some consider Joyce Carol Oates a master of the short story, I had to give her a try. Will You Always Lov...moreI love short stories. So when I learned that some consider Joyce Carol Oates a master of the short story, I had to give her a try. Will You Always Love Me? And Other Stories is a collection of twenty-two stories that have all been previously published in a variety of publications including Western Humanities Review, Cosmopolitan, Salmagundi, Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Michigan Quarterly Review,and Southern Review.
The stories are all about relationships. Many are dyads: husband wife; mother daughter; stepmother stepdaughter; sisters; teacher student; two strangers; parent child; evangelist sinner. Others are groups: well healed neighbors; childhood playmates; friends gathered at a restaurant; people seeking a vision of the Virgin Mary. Some are about the darker side of life: lost dog, lost child, lost love; murder suicide; deception; closeted gay teenagers; physical and emotional abuse; secrets never to be uttered.
I have now read We Were the Mulvaneys and Will You Always Love Me? as my introduction to JCO. I think I will read more of her books, but not if I am looking for something optimistic or humorous. (less)
Bizarro Starter Kit Purple was recommended to me by several people as the ‘best’ of the three starter kits. For the price of $10 new, it is a fairly i...moreBizarro Starter Kit Purple was recommended to me by several people as the ‘best’ of the three starter kits. For the price of $10 new, it is a fairly inexpensive way to see if you are interested in this style of writing. The one page biopic and notes preceding the work of each of the ten authors was most helpful to me. It is good to know the predilections of the person I am reading. I needed all the help I could get in understanding and appreciating their work. As you will see from my brief comments about each writer, I was mostly not pulled into the winner’s column of the Bizarro Genre. I guess this Old Dog is not ready yet for their New Tricks. However, I may want to check out other work by Russell Edson, David Agranoff, Andrew Goldfarb and Kris Saknussemm. (Actually, four out of ten is not bad is it?) But not right away.
Note to self for future research: Are Mad Max and Mad Magazine precursors of Bizarro? Is Don Martin the original Bizarro artist?
Russell Edson writes poetic snippets about a man erasing his daughter who was a mistake, a man breaking into pieces, a pooping piano, a large thing whose place in the world is uncertain, about a turtle who lives within a mechanical turtle whose life is periodically disrupted, about the old woman piloting a huge shoe packed with so many children wandering the earth, about trying to bring a rotting, stinking corpse back to life, about a mother who serves up a badly cooked ape to father every night, about the study of miniature sheep the size of grains of rice, about the closet man who is not sad to be living in a house without rooms where nothing happens. Sounds like a normal block in your neighborhood in a weird and humorous sort of way.
Athena Villaverde, the sole woman among the ten authors, pens Clockwork Girl which she claims to be a “sexy and weird bizarro fantasy tale.” If the rape and sexual enslavement of a mechanical object identified as a toy by the brother of her beloved owner is sexy, then this story is sexy. Personally, I didn’t think so. We follow the life of a toy that is loved, left, discarded, and salvaged in a strange dump populated by other discarded clockwork toys. She is resurrected as a human 20 year old girl who becomes famous creating art from discarded objects. The girl who originally loved her grows up and miraculously comes to clockwork girl’s studio to apply for a job as an apprentice. No doubt that it is weird with a bit of cleverness and probably a moral if one desired such a thing in a story.
David Agranoff writes a nineteen page story titled Punkupine Moshers of the Apocalypse . The introductory paragraphs promise “revolutionary dark bizarro fiction . . . laced with his own radical political views.” With that lead in, I am hopeful, having wished to be a radical revolutionary myself on occasion. Well, I spent a lot of my early life waiting for 1984 with an expectation that something would happen that year. If I buy into David, I will now start waiting for 2020. That’s only nine years away. Guess I could manage that. But calling Reagan a boogeyman won’t make you a radical in my book. And not a pacifist in the bunch. Now that would be radical. But, in this case, I don’t want to spoil the story other than to say you should be prepared for punk rockers. It is hilarious. In a 1985 kind of way. Nineteen pages was about the right length. I think it would be hard to make it into a full novel or a series.
Matthew Revert must be a pseudonym: Revert = Pervert? Clockwork must be a special concept in bizarro since we have here in A Million Versions of Right a clockwork father. “Stomach acid was knocking against my insides like waves to a shore.” This is writing? Well, it is certainly original! But, as far as originality goes, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Just keep the word tiler (a word unknown to my spellcheck, btw) in mind. The concept of autobiographical takes on a completely new twist. The lesson I learned: there is no such thing as symbolism. Concentration Tongue is the second short story of this Pervert trilogy. It is also blessedly short. Enough said. The final (thank god) story is The Great Headphone Wank . Is life déjà vu? Should we just say, “Try it, you’ll like it”? Weird? Yes, it qualifies. Degenerate? Is that a requirement? Story summary: haunted fucking headphones. Highlight: a reference to flying toasters. (Been a while since I have thought of that.) Hint: avoid Australia.
Andrew Goldfarb lives in San Francisco so at least he has an excuse for his bizarro leanings. He is a graphic artist who probably does graffiti as his second job. Ogner Stump mean anything to you? Me neither. How about The Eye Hand of the Carolinas? Nefarious Habits? Maybe The Tea Party? The Hex? The Vastness of Space? And last, The Somnambulist’s Lament? All with “old-fashioned comic art techniques and a warped sense of humor to express an absurd world view.”
“Jeff Burk writes violent, absurd, and funny stories about punks, monsters, gore, and trash culture.” Any questions? In Cripple wolf the P words reappear: punk, pervert, piercings. But the phrase “through the grace of God” in the midst of werewolves on a plane seems wildly misplaced. Not so the speakers on a doomed airplane blasting out ‘Ziggy Stardust.’ The concluding sentence: “He felt so good that he didn’t even notice the bite wound on his ankle.” Does this suggest a follow on story? Hopefully not, by the grace of God.
Garrett Cook, another white boy, is noted to be “a purveyor of dark moral fiction.” Will this be a breath of fresh air? I can only hope. The twenty pager, Re-Mancipator, leads off with “he pulled out of her,” not a good start for my reading pleasure. Garrett plays with familiar names and phrases: Marilyn Monroe, ‘the candy man can,’ John Booth (as in Lincoln), Madonna, Frank Sinatra. I forget what Norma Jean has to do with Lincoln. Or the candy man for that matter. But there are little Lincolns everywhere as every time (frequently) a pseudo-Lincoln’s stovepipe hat is sliced, it pours out another batch of mini-Lincolns. Like, for the old timers here, the multiplying brooms in the 1940 Disney movie, Fantasia. But, about Re-Mancipator, I give up on its meaning unless it is ‘history is bullshit, love isn’t.’ But what would that mean?
Kris Saknussemm must be a jet setter since he is from Melbourne and New York. Sounds unlikely: a jet setter bizarro author. Sparklewheel is another of those less-than-two-dozen page bizarro specialties; it begins with sex on a moving ferris wheel. Or is it a giant roulette wheel? Can’t say it isn’t novel. At this point in The Bizarro Starter Kit Purple I, a non-religious person, am praying for the end to come and considering the morality of skimming the pages and pretending I am reading them. Surreal. Doesn’t that mean unlikely by any standard and dreamlike? Very surreal. No wonder they put you near the end of the book, Kris. Because this has to be a crescendo of action. How would someone make this into a low budget film? Is Mad Max here somewhere? Or maybe Don Martin from Mad Magazine? Did you say that Dante was one of your influences? This could be getting exciting. This reminds me of the movie Brazil but uber-Brazil with all the havoc. Or is this a souped up and sexed up Indiana Jones? You are a good writer, Kris Saknussemn. I was drawn into the excitement. But the end? Well, it made me think that there was something spiritual going on with the Old Man and the sparklewheel. I would have preferred an ending more ethical humanist than religious.
Cody Goodfellow writes ”deeply transgressive metamorphosis fantasies of a doomed collective unconscious repackaged as id-addicted post-modern pulp trash.” What is the chance that I will understand what he writes if I do not understand how he describes his writing? Well, here goes. The Homewreckers is the biggie of the book – 40 pages – and evidently a murder mystery with a male detective working on the ‘women only’ side of town. Excuse me if I get this wrong but something happened to make men and women hate each other so they lived apart. Babies happened by scientifically with no sex and no womb. Women raise the girls and boys mostly go to orphanages to grow up. And there is something about men having babies. But I can’t swear to that. (Take the shortcut to chapter 3.) There is serious sexism built into this invented world so there is humor.
Cameron Pierce has the honor of being 10th in this book of 10 authors. I am not sure if saving the best for last is a bizarro tradition. (Addendum: No, it isn’t.) But I am ready to be surprised. Summary sentence: What the fuck! Plot summary: Simon and Celia are biking home from a dinner party on a smoky orange night in August. Simon and Celia lock their bikes to a light post. Simon dreams that he and Celia are stapling bacon to the cardboard walls of a cathedral without doors or windows. Fifteen minutes later, an ambulance pulls to the curb outside the apartment. After the ambulance goes, Simon finds a pair of scissors. On the morning of the funeral, Simon wakes up and puts on a pot of coffee. Simon prepares to leave the apartment for the funeral. A sign on the side of the road proclaims WELCOME TO JOHNSON FUNERAL SERVICES. Simon unlocks his bike from the FUNERAL PARKING ONLY sign. (Some other weird things happen. This is the Bizarro Genre, after all.)
Do you remember 1988? Sacred Cows and Other Edibles was published in 1988. It was a leap year. On January 8th the Dow Jones falls 140.58 points, or 6....moreDo you remember 1988? Sacred Cows and Other Edibles was published in 1988. It was a leap year. On January 8th the Dow Jones falls 140.58 points, or 6.85%, to close at 1,911.31. In February the Winter Olympics are held in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. In March Jesse Jackson wins several Southern state primaries. In April The Last Emperor wins nine Oscars. In May after more than 8 years of fighting, the Soviet Army begins withdrawing from Afghanistan. In June a celebration of the 70th birthday of imprisoned ANC leader Nelson Mandela is held at a concert in Wembley Stadium. In July the Democratic National Convention nominates Michael Dukakis for U.S. President. In August the Iran–Iraq War ends, with an estimated one million lives lost. In September large, militant protests against the World Bank and IMF meetings take place in West Berlin. In October Super Mario Brothers 3 is released in Japan. In November George H. W. Bush is elected President. In December Pan Am Flight 103 is blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people.
OK, that was a smattering of what happened in 1988. Some of the chapters and references are about issues that were current back then. Some are funny. But some I just don’t get: “…being Black carries a special responsibility in this recession” gets my attention but I am not sure if it is tongue in cheek or just offensive. And the section decrying handicapped parking and mandatory seat belt use must have been prescient in 1988. But not funny.
So, now I am wondering what others thought of Sacred Cows so I consult GR. This book is not well represented on GR: one review and 20 ratings. Fourteen of the rating gave it a four or five. Not bad but a small sampling. So this book clearly came and went before GR began. (Note that her book The Collected Poetry of Nikki Giovanni gets 109 five rating out of 221 total ratings. Many readers obviously think she has done some very good writing.)
My eight year old has what she calls “opposite days.” When she says yes, she means no. When she says she likes something, she doesn’t like it. Nikki Giovanni is having an opposite day in the first dozen or so pages of Sacred Cows. I just didn’t get it. I could not hear the sarcasm or see the wink. Given the book title, I must be dense to have missed it.
See what you think of Giovanni’s mix. Deadly serious and humorous?
I am totally shocked by the Cincinnati father who raped his five-month-old baby while his wife was out shopping. Guess that will teach his wife to ask him to baby-sit. I’m shocked that child molesters now simply open day care centers to which unwitting parents take innocent children. I’m shocked that people, estimated in the millions, will die of starvation on this earth; that people sleep in the crevices and corners of the streets in our major cities; that mass murderers and presidential assassins get to plead mental anguish. Talk about a headache! I’m disappointed that Ronald Reagan thinks that trees pollute and that the Democratic Party nominated Walter Mondale. But hey! Who asked me?
But then she comes around the corner. In her autobiographical “Reflections on My Profession” on writing, Nikki Giovanni is truly a wordsmith. Her pages are packed with words: vibrant; serious and thoughtful and thought provoking mixed with some backhanded humor. In her prose you can imagine her poetry. Condensed prose. My early impression of two stars is moving up as I read.
Now before you say, “But I can’t read this book because my parents don’t have it on their book shelf like yours did,” let’s look at the online used books. There you are: dozens of hardback and paperback copies for under $2 plus shipping. For some wonderful reason, the hardbacks are often less expensive and will look better on your book shelf for someone to find in the future.
This seems to happen a lot to me: probably 30% of this book gets two stars but the other 70% gets four stars. Having read this book of prose, I am looking forward to reading some of her poetry in the future. I give this book three stars, thinking it is more like 3.5 stars. Nikki Giovanni was born on June 7, 1943; she is about three years older than I am. So we have lived in the same historical time period so that adds to me interest level. But, honestly, if you want to read Nikki Giovanni, read some of her books of poetry instead of this prose work from over 20 years ago.
I mentioned handicap parking and seat belt use earlier as maybe issues where Ms. Giovanni was saying the opposite of what she meant. But having read her diatribe about non-smokers trying to limit the right to smoke, I am not longer certain. Ms. G- is a smoker. Don’t mess with her when she says, “Non-smokers have gone way over the brink about clean air.” I think she meant it. So maybe handicapped parking and mandatory seat belt use rile her up too. Put this in my 30% category. In fact, put the beginning and ending of this book in the 30% category. The middle is pretty good. But her poetry is better. (less)
This is another one of those 20+ year old books that I seem to be reading regularly. But it has aged well and I would recommend it to all people who a...moreThis is another one of those 20+ year old books that I seem to be reading regularly. But it has aged well and I would recommend it to all people who are old or think they may be old one day. Especially women. This one was on my parent's bookshelf that I have been raiding recently.
You can get this book on GR Bookswap at the moment. Go for it! I won't be passing on my own copy since it has a sentimental value to me. But you can get a hardcover copy for 99 cents at Alibris. (less)
This is another book I obtained through GR bookswap. I am randomly picking up some JCO books based on what is available. JCO has soooooo many books. R...moreThis is another book I obtained through GR bookswap. I am randomly picking up some JCO books based on what is available. JCO has soooooo many books. Random seems to be as appropriate a methodology as any. I hope to read her biography soon to see if I can understand what makes her tick.
I love short stories and the JCO’s offerings here range from 3 to 60 pages. A five pager leads off and is done with one lonely period at the end. In spite of that extremely long stream of consciousness sentence, you do have to pause occasionally to take a breath. There are some commas and exclamation marks to suggest places you might do that. The story does end with a bang.
The Museum of Dr Moses is one of JCO’s more recent books, published in 2008. It is suspense fiction. If you do not already know that, you find out pretty quickly.
One of the ways that a story appeals to the reader is when it strikes a familiar cord. The story “Feral” brings some of my feelings and experience to bear. This is about a six year old boy who has a life threatening experience and undergoes changes in his personality as a result. The changes and the description of those changes is Stephen King-ish. The parents imagine the impact of that experience on their young son based on their life with him. In my case, I have a young daughter adopted at the age of 3½ from China. Those years in China are, for us, an unknown period. What might the psychological effects be of being abandoned, living in an orphanage and foster home and having an untreated physical disability? How did those unknown years participate in creating the child we now know and love? We live with that unknown but without the bizarre events of the fiction story. As they say in fiction, “Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.”
In this small book we see gradual disclosure that often still leaves a surprise at the end. There is a good deal of real suspense on the first reading. I am not sure how it would be if you read it a second time, knowing the conclusion. Of course, there is enough Joyce Carol Oates out there so that you never need to read anything twice!
In a book of short stories you are not required to like (let alone understand) all the stories……Right? But if someone understands the three page story “Stripping,” please clue me in. (less)
This was my first reading of Eudora Welty. I found the book on my parents' bookshelf but didn't read it until I discovered she lived in and wrote about Mississippi. Her being a southern author attracted me to her. I think I will have to read more of her work to decide if I like her. Her characters are often pretty weird and I like weird so that is a plus. Most of the stories in this book are about ten pages. But I still look for a story and a plot even though it is a short story. And I don't always find one. Maybe I just can't see the trees for the forest.
I find much of the language wonderfully descriptive but what is being described is not always wonderful. There are many good pieces of writing here, many in the first person: you can put yourself into the scene being described. For me the train of thought in some of the stories is confusing. Maybe I just need to be more attentive and less distracted when I read her short stories.
Her preface to The Collected Stories was written in Jackson, Mississippi in 1980.
In general, my stories as they've come along have reflected their own present time, beginning with the Depression in which I began; they come out of my response to it. ... (My stories are)... written from within. They come from living here - they were part of living here, of my long familiarity with the thoughts and feelings of those around me, in their many shadings and variations and contradictions.
The 1988 movie Mississippi Burning is still triggered in my mind when I think of Mississippi, not a good association. I have a lot of prejudice centered on that southern state. I understand that Eudora Welty wrote about, among other things, the oppression of blacks and women in the south and the negative role of religion. That would meet my expectations.
I am going to give this book of short stories two stars ("it was OK") for starters. There are three more books of short stories included in The Collected Stories. Maybe my thinking and my ability to comprehend Welty will improve with more experience of her writing. Then I may be able to come back to A Curtain of Green and Other Stories and increase its star power. I saw enough good writing here that I think that is possible. (less)
As I experience Eudora Welty, I know that there is much that I am missing. I continue to hope that one day I will be able to return to her books and a...moreAs I experience Eudora Welty, I know that there is much that I am missing. I continue to hope that one day I will be able to return to her books and award them with the star ratings that I am sure they must deserve. But today her short stories mostly remain a mystery to me.
The Wide Net and Other Stories was published in 1943. This book was read as a part of The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty. The setting for the stories is the Natchez Trace of Mississippi.
Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail: The Old Natchez Trace was a 500-mile footpath that ran through Choctaw and Chickasaw lands connecting Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee. You can experience portions of that journey the way earlier travelers did - on foot. Today there are four separate trails totaling 65 miles and they are administered by the Natchez Trace Parkway. Source: http://www.nps.gov/natt/index.htm
The book of stories of the Natchez Trace begins with First Love. You cannot simply read this story with no background. At least I couldn’t. I tried and just couldn’t figure out what was going on. What did Aaron Burr have to do with Mississippi? Ask Google! Unless you have the information stored in your head, the research slows you down. The cadence of the lines is lost to the stop and start. There is a rhythm that almost begs to be read aloud to be experienced in full.
In reading, you will likely be reminded of Flannery O'Connor and William Faulkner. Clearly a Southern writer like them, Welty respects her often peculiar characters. She uses sly humor well, as in the title story The Wide Net where a bridegroom searching the river for his presumably drowned wife nonetheless is able to haul up a slew of fish to be sold on the streets of town. Each of her main characters is memorable, with the finely drawn quirkiness that stamps them as individuals. http://www.amazon.com/Wide-Net-Other-...
Another story is The Purple Hat , a mere six pages long. And although I have no idea what it means, I know what happens and could tell you. So I will.
Two men come into a bar during a thunder storm and sit at opposite ends of the bar. One man, the talkative one, is fat. The other, the quiet one, is thin, young and unshaven. The only other person there is the bartender who serves them each a drink. The fat man launches into a story of a woman in a purple hat who has come into the Palace of Pleasure every day for thirty years and meets a young man there. The fat man allows as how she is a ghost and he has seen her murdered twice. The fat man tells the story of the murders. The cathedral bell chimes at 5 o’clock and the young, thin man gets up and leaves the bar having never said a word. The fat man shortly after pays the bar bill and also leaves the bar but not before he says he will be back tomorrow to continue the story.
The six pages are filled with descriptions, verbal and nonverbal interactions and mystery. And there you have it. No car chases. And, just like that, we are on to the next story. Another mystery of meaning that will have to wait until another day to be deciphered.
How do you read Eudora Welty? Her words seem magical at times, promising more than I can know. I will put her on the shelf with hope and expectation. Surely there is a way to understand her.
Or as someone else said some time ago:
“When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.”
Or maybe: “Did you ever stop to think, and forget to start again?”
This book brings together for the first time the complete stories – thirty-one in all – of one of the great American writers of short fiction. – from the book jacket so consider the source…
Useless factoid: The cover art of The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor includes a drawing of a peacock, a bird that is evidently identified with O’Connor because she raised a number of them when, due to illness, she returned to her family home in Georgia.
Flannery O'Connor (1925-1964) is considered one of America's greatest fiction writers and one of the strongest apologists for Roman Catholicism in the twentieth century. Born of the marriage of two of Georgia's oldest Catholic families, O'Connor was a devout believer whose small but impressive body of fiction presents the soul's struggle with what she called the "stinking mad shadow of Jesus." …
In 1972 the posthumous collection The Complete Stories received the National Book Award, usually given to a living writer. The judges deemed O'Connor's work so deserving that an exception was made to honor her lifetime achievement. Source: http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/ng...
I decided to read this book as a part of my effort to read some southern authors since I live in Virginia. I did not discover that O’Connor was a “devout Catholic” until later. Being a devout irreligious, I entered into the first story with some trepidation. The fact that 90% of the GR reviews (and there are thousands) give this book four or five stars makes me wonder who is reading this book. Are there that many devout Catholic believers amongst us? As it turns out, I didn’t find the religiosity overdone and, in fact, I found with a few exceptions that it was easy to ignore. If it was lurking in the background, I took care not to look too hard for it.
Here are some comments on the first dozen stories:
The Geranium – Old Dudley waits for the man in a neighboring building to puI his geranium in the window like he did each day. Today the geranium fell out of the window, landing on the pavement six floors down. Words are exchanged. The Barber – Rayber is a teacher and goes to the barber shop each Tuesday. They discuss opposing candidates while Rayber gets a shave. He tries to give a speech defending his candidate but the others in the shop are having none of it. The word nigger is used but doesn’t seem to bother the boy in the shop sweeping the floor. Wildcat – Old Gabriel is blind but he smells a wildcat. He thinks back to when he was just a blind boy and a wildcat killed an old man in his house. Now he is old and left alone and fears the cat. He gets through the night but will have to do it all over again tonight. The Crop – Mrs. Willerton always crumbed the table after breakfast. She imagines herself a writer and has an exciting life as she sits at the typewriter. We ask her: Is this imagination or life? The Turkey – Ruller was an unusual eleven year old. God dammit to hell, he chased that turkey a long ways. But then they took it from him. The Train – The young man Haze takes a trip into the past in an upper berth of a train. He was planning to lift the shade in the berth and see how everything went by a train at night. But instead he has a nightmare in the domed bed with no window to look out. The Peeler – Here he is again, Haze from The Train. This time he sees a blind man and an ugly girl passing out religious tracts at a street hawker (selling potato peelers!) and then follows them when they do more leafleting. He then goes to stay with a naked woman and has a very strange flash back memory involving a carnival act and his mother. (Beats me what this is all about. Maybe we will find out in a later story.) The Heart of the Park – So here we have Enoch, who we know from The Peeler, and he meets up with Haze again. But, wait, Haze has a different last name. How many men could have the first name of Hazel? I mean really, what is going on here? I am getting sucked in. OK, this is weird. I am not up to page 100 yet in a 550 page book so maybe I am jumping the gun in thinking I should have a clue about what is going on. But these are short stories, not a book, so I should be able to get some sense out of each story independently of the rest. Right? A Stroke of Good Fortune – She was thirty-four and didn’t need to go to no doctor. She just needed to move so that she didn’t have to climb the stairs up to the fifth floor. Madam Zoleeda said it would end in good fortune. Not cancer or heart trouble. Laverne was wrong. Enoch and the Gorilla – Yup. Enoch again. Doesn’t Flannery know the difference between 12 a.m. and 12 p.m.? Does a chocolate malted milkshake symbolize something? A gorilla groupie? A Good Man Is Hard to Find – This is one they talk about all the time. Now that I’ve read it, can’t say that I understand why. Must be a lot of meaning hidden there somewhere. A Late Encounter with the Enemy – The problem with these stories is that they are kind of fun to read but I can’t seem to see quite why. The people just have this sort of silliness about them that can make you smile. He was one hundred and four and lived to sit on the stage at his daughter’s graduation. But he just wanted to sit with the girls.
The more I read, the more I got hooked. I am not sure that this is really a book to read all the way through at once but I enjoyed immersing myself in it. I give it four stars with no misgivings but wondering if it served to inspire Stephen King or the TV show Twilight Zone. There is some bizarreness.
Oh, yes, if the word nigger disturbs you, you might want to find another book. It’s everywhere. (less)
As I begin this immense work, I feel as Philippe Petit must have felt as he began the high wire walk between the Twin Towers on August 7, 1974: I know...moreAs I begin this immense work, I feel as Philippe Petit must have felt as he began the high wire walk between the Twin Towers on August 7, 1974: I know I can do it but it surely is a long way. But, as has been said many times, “The longest journey begins with a single step.” So I begin.
I am not a bull fighting kind of person. Watching a bull tortured and killed for the pleasure of the crowd is not my idea of a good time. "In Our Time" is an early story that includes bullfighting and bullfighters. If I am going to read much Hemingway, maybe I will have to learn something about men fighting bulls.
It is hard to admit it, but I do not remember ever reading any Hemingway in my 65 years. To run through the well known titles of some of his stories makes it even more amazing (or distressing). So to begin reading Hemingway with his Collected Stories might seem odd. My rationale is that I enjoy short stories and it seems one way to take Hemingway a little bit at a time. But I understand that there is a lot packed into even the shortest of his stories.
Sports play a role in many Hemingway stories: bullfighting, fishing, skiing, steeplechase, boxing, bicycle racing, big-game hunting. He usually has more to say about the participants than the sport itself. However, in the short story "Undefeated" (written in 1925-26) there are twenty-five pages of bloody bullfighting. You can watch some bullfighting on YouTube, but I don’t recommend it. Hemingway’s description of bullfighting here is just as unsettling to me as the video. On the other hand, his descriptions of the people associated with bullfighting are interesting to me. It is a negative factor to me that the author Hemingway has a love of bullfighting and that he presents it as something noble. I would say the same thing about his love of big-game hunting. Gross.
When Hemingway saw his first bullfight in Pamplona in 1923, he brought his wife Hadley along because he hoped the event would have a positive influence on the unborn son she then carried. The sport certainly affected the budding writer. It became one of the reigning passions of his life. Source: http://www.pbs.org/hemingwayadventure...
This is not to say that I object to writers dealing with things I find abhorrent. Or even the graphic description of those things. But I do get to decide what I read. It is easy to decide to skip bullfighting.
Speaking of abhorrent, Hemingway has another topic that he loves: war. A “Natural History of the Dead” is an eight page short story that is somewhere between humor and horror. It is Jonathan Swift.
An interesting aspect of war, too, is that it is only there that the naturalist has an opportunity to observe the dead of mules. In twenty years of observation in civil life I had never seen a dead mule and had begun to entertain doubts as to whether these animals were really mortal.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, a phrase that those who know Hemingway are wont to send in his direction. He must have gotten very tired of this.
When you read the short story "The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio," you are confronted with more Hemingway humor. It is a story about a Mexican who is shot and in a hospital. Doesn’t sound funny to you?
One morning the doctor wanted to show Mr. Frazer two pheasants that were out there in the snow, and pulling the bed toward the window, the reading light fell off the iron bedstead and hit Mr. Frazer on the head. This does not sound so funny now but it was very funny then.
Like Hemingway said, It was very funny then. You might find yourself laughing out loud! N.B. The radio has seven tubes in it. Does anyone remember when radios had tubes? So there it is: humor and nostalgia. It makes me smile just to think about it.
“The Snows of Kilimanjaro” was first published in 1936 in Esquire magazine. I have known this title seemingly my entire life without knowing the story. Now I have finally read it. It is the story of a man on safari in Africa who is slowly dying from gangrene of a leg. He spars with death and with his wife, recalling events of his life and feeling that he has not managed to live his life as he intended.
********************************************************************* The Spanish Civil War was from July 1936 through March 1939. The Hemingway short stories that involved this war:
The Denunciation 1938 The Butterfly and the Tank 1938 Night before Battle 1939 Under the Ridge 1939
The war in a nutshell: The socialists clearly won an election in 1936 to govern Spain. The right wing Nationalists attempted to overthrow the elected government and was successful in taking over some cities where the government Civil Guard was not strong. Mussolini and Hitler aided the Nationalists; the Soviet Union supported the Republican government militia. International Brigades fought on the side of the Republicans. France provided some support, the British none. The Republican army was defeated in their strongholds of Barcelona, Catalonia, Valencia and Madrid by the end of March 1939. The right wing Nationalists had won and the Franco rein began. ********************************************************************
Although some of the topics (bullfighting, boxing, big-game hunting) in this book were not to my liking, the writing shines through almost everywhere. I thought I would read some of the stories in The Collected Stories but now that I think about it I am not sure how I would have decided which stories to read. But it will be easier to go back one day and reread the ones I need to spend more time with: “The Strange Country” would have to be at the top of that list. But, then, the more I think about it, I could spend more time with any one of Hemingway’s short stories. And then there are always the many books about Hemingway. Much more about the author at http://www.ernest.hemingway.com/ .
I give The Collected Stories four stars. Many individual stories would rate five stars and none would be lower than three. The lower ratings are more due to the topics rather than the writing. I have to admit to being somewhat star struck by this most famous author whom I have never managed to read before this. (less)
I got quite a few used books just because they were short stories. Mostly I didn’t know the authors. So this is one of them picked more or less random...moreI got quite a few used books just because they were short stories. Mostly I didn’t know the authors. So this is one of them picked more or less randomly off the shelf. Wish me luck! My ten year old says I don’t laugh. She is wrong. I laugh inside where you cannot see. Quietly. These stories are supposed to be quirky.
I didn’t think I made New Year’s Resolutions but it turns out I do. Now, you ask, “What does this have to do with June?” My 2013 resolution is to find out how many stories the average short story book includes.
Twelve. So far the average short story book has twelve stories. That is an average of one book. This one. Since my other resolution is to read short story books we will see in the coming months if that average rises or falls.
“Twin Study” gets me off to a quirky start. Identical twin sisters meet every four years to be a part of a study that was started when they were twelve. The goal of one twin is to be as different from her sister as possible. Or is it? (5 stars)
“Velvet” is the life story of an Australian terrier mix. It is a chance to follow the interior life of a dog closely through her adventures. (5 stars)
“The Cavemen in the Hedges” examines the life of our narrator and his girlfriend as they go through a rough period of their ten year relationship. The role of the cavemen is more than symbolic. (4 stars)
After the first three stories I want to give this book five stars. But the fourth story, “The Long Hall,” is about teenage sisters bumbling around a teenage boy, an absent father and a wino mother. Nothing really happy or funny about this story. Since there are teenagers, there is angst. (3 stars)
Where is best for a young Jewish unmarried couple to live but Yuletide Village where outdoor Christmas decorations take over three weeks out of the year in honor of “Christ, Their Lord”? “There is nothing like Christmas in Arizona, azure skies and seventy-two degrees, to make the world look fraudulent.” (4 stars)
Well, “Blackout” is raunchy. And maybe sexist if not misogynistic with its Spring Break setting. Is this how we want to imagine another human being? Evidently, yes. (1 star)
A girl is subjected to a Mommy Binge on her thirteenth birthday in a swank NYC restaurant as I cringe through the way, way over-the-top “My Mother the Rock Star.” Once again experiencing her mother’s outrageousness, the new teenager thinks, “I start to get used to it.” (3 stars)
Two poets take an underage boy out into the desert. Poetry is the last thing on their minds in “Habits and Habitat of the Southwestern Bad Boy.” (3 stars) Another unlikely but interesting tale. I guess they all are, aren’t they? In this one a woman grows a brainless clone that is supposed to get her out of “The Land of Pain.” It doesn’t work out. (4 stars)
The combination of science and fantasy is a common literary event. In “A Case Study of Emergency Room Procedure and Risk Management by Hospital Staff Members in the Urban Facility” a case of drug induced fantasy draws in most of the emergency room staff late one night. But who wreaked so much havoc in the waiting room? It looks as if someone drove a motorcycle through it. (5 stars)
A May December relationship can be sweet if somewhat kinky. Since this is more of a kinky book, I have to think this story leans more in that direction. “Young People Today” has the standard dig a hole and then fill it in scenario. (3 stars)
When is a relationship not a relationship? The dream of doing a “Duet” was not to be. (4 stars)
I don’t mind bumping Twin Study up from 3 2/3 to four stars. I did enjoy it that much. I like quirky quite a bit. And bizarre ain’t bad either. (less)
All three books receive five stars from me. Later the Same Day has, by far, the most left wing political allusions so is my favorite of the three. Many of the same characters appear in many of the stories in all three books. (less)
This book of short stories includes some in NYC and others about NYC people. I love NYC. The age of the characters does not matter because I always st...moreThis book of short stories includes some in NYC and others about NYC people. I love NYC. The age of the characters does not matter because I always start out thinking of them in their 50s with comfortable clothes and tosseled hair, maybe like Archie and Edith Bunker. Then if it turns out they have a two year old child, I know I was wrong but am not always successful at altering my imagination. I am comfortable being around Ann Beattie’s people.
This is my introduction to Ann Beattie. I was looking at some used books for short stories and this turned up. These are my kind of short stories: three maybe four pages with big margins. Every word counts and there is no excess information except what the author wants there to be. The writing is sharp and the stories are often quirky. Lots of stories full of routine life: summer vacations, going out to dinner, having a beer, winter nights, summer days, walking the dog, going to the Goodwill, watching TV, going out to run. Even though one story – Summer People – had some suspense and it ended without a resolution, I didn’t mind the question marks. There was tension in some of the relationships but nothing out of the ordinary: trip to the in-laws at Christmas, child custody situations, marital and family relationships. Almost all of the action was in the heads of the people. But I found the words often to be mesmerizing and beautiful.
It is not fair to say nothing dramatic happens in these stories. Most of the drama happens quietly between people. You are reminded that small but important events are folded into our lives. Or maybe to say that there is some poignancy and profundity in everyday life. I think that is what the skill of Beattie’s writing does for me. I notice and remember things that I might have ignored the first time they went by. I think to appreciate the people I care about even if they spend the vast majority of their time being regular folks.
Here are some key sentences for each story. You can use them at your next party. Read the sentence and then have someone construct a story around it.
In the White Night – In time, both of them had learned to stop passing judgment on how they coped with the inevitable sadness that set in, always unexpectedly but so real it was met with the instant acceptance one gave to a snowfall.
Snow – “Any life will seem dramatic if you omit mention of most of it.” Skeletons – . . . when she was drawing she always sensed the model’s bones and muscles, and what she did was stroke a soft surface over them until a body took form.
The Big Outside World – She wasn’t going to carry them home, so she invented a scenario in which the man was right: an employee inside would see the bags, open the door, and take them in.
Coney Island – If they can have a child and if it’s a girl, Holly wants to name it for a flower: Rose or Lily or Margy – is that what she thought up? Short for Marigold.
When Can I See You Again? – “Gooseberries are probably the most popular. I don’t know why. I think because people love something exotic. Gooseberries mean ‘I want to see you again.’”
Lofty – Wadding newspaper to stuff into the urn for another summer, she had been shocked at how tightly she crushed it – as if by directing her energy into her hands she could fight back tears.
High School – My myopia is getting worse; until we come close, I mistake a bunch of broccoli for a bonsai tree.
Janus – the wonderful thing about the bowl, Andrea thought, was that it was both subtle and noticeable – a paradox of a bowl.
Spiritus – There was a rose of Sharon down the road that had been grafted so that it blossomed both pink and lavender.
Times – If either one became interested in someone else, they would handle the situation in whatever way they felt best, but there would be no flaunting of the other person, and they wouldn’t talk about it.
Summer People – He was flattered but also slightly worried that she wanted to make love every night.
Cards – “They’re wondering what perfume you have on, and whether you now hate your husband so much because he voted for Reagan that you’d do anything behind his back in the afternoon.”
Heaven On a Summer Night – On the job, construction workers sat up straight and drove tractors over piles of dirt and banged through potholes big enough to sink a bicycle, but at home, where the women she knew most often saw their men, they spent their time stretched out in big chairs, or standing by barbecue grills, languidly turning a hamburger as the meat charred.
Where You’ll Find Me – “. . . at the end of the summer, after I had mailed the picture, I’d be walking along or doing whatever I was doing and this feeling would come over me that he was thinking about me.”
Writing this was fun, even if no one else really wants to know something about every story in the book. Looking for that one sentence keeps my attention. That might seem like a strange thing to say about a book of short stories, but I really sometimes have a very short attention span. Usually I have to go back and read the story again. My selection of nibs might be my version of a Rorschach test with words. It is hard when I have more than one candidate and have to make a selection. Of course, you couldn’t do this with a book, but it works nicely for me with short stories.
Where You’ll Find Me was published in 1986 so has a few years on her. But most of the stories hardly seemed at all dated. I didn’t miss the computers and cell phones. Well, yes, there was smoking allowed in this fancy restaurant and the reference to Reagan and the 1977 Volvo. Well, it was just a book of short stories.
Excuse me if I was a little fresh (or maybe flip) in this review. It was just the feeling of the book. I add this book of short stories up to four stars. Maybe if I read it in 1986, it would get five. (less)
When I read a book of short stories, I usually wait eagerly for the title story, the one that the book is named after. And then I wonder how that sele...moreWhen I read a book of short stories, I usually wait eagerly for the title story, the one that the book is named after. And then I wonder how that selection was made. In this case the stories are gathered from several previous collections but only one was chosen to be the title of the book. Often in the review of a book of short stories, like this one, the reviewer will summarize several stories to give you a flavor of the book. Other reviewers have done that with Where I’m Calling From so I will resist.
But I’ll say a bit about the title story just in case you are looking forward to that. It’s a story about a drunk who meets another drunk in a place they are getting sober. I figure some of the stories are autobiographical since Raymond Carver was a drunk. He was also a fisher and hunter and some of the stories include fishing and hunting. But not this one. I try to imagine someone telling parts of this story at an AA meeting where someone is celebrating the anniversary of their sobriety. Seems possible from my experience. Drunks are often good story tellers as Carver shows. Where I’m Calling From includes regular parts of a drunk story: tremors, a wife, a girlfriend, kids. It also includes kissing a chimney sweep for good luck.
Again, I will not try to summarize the thirty-seven stories in this collection. Judging from the review of the book from the New York Times, these particular stories were selected by the author himself.
In putting together ''Where I'm Calling From,'' Mr. Carver decided against collecting all his stories. ''There are some I'm not particularly fond of and would not like to see reprinted again. I just picked up ones that I felt I could live with.''
Many of the stories involve married couples and their not-always-positive impressions of and experiences with each other. I would say the book will leave you sober and thoughtful about life, maybe even slogging occasionally though the gritty minutia. I found myself wondering where I was when I finished reading many of the stories. What has just happened to the characters in the story? What was going to happen next? It couldn’t possibly be a happy ending, could it? Not likely.
I wonder why I would want to read a book like this? Well, I like the glimpses I get of my own weird interior life. It makes me feel alive in the midst of what might seem like the humdrum of daily routine because my mind is always bumping though this kind of material. The intricacy and beauty of the snowflake is not easy to capture in the whiteout but I think Raymond Carver might be trying to do that in the midst of his portrayal of so much gloom. Or is it just the opposite of beauty: the putrid smell of the refuse? The promise and threat of the storm cloud is often present at the beginning, in the middle, at the end of the story.
We are told that the stories in the book are arranged “generally” in chronological order. I believe the inclusion of the word generally is to both raise our curiosity and our hackles. This is what Carver does with words habitually. Or at least he did that until he died in 1988, the year this book was published, at the young age of fifty.
Sometimes the story just ends.
He said, “I just want to say one more thing.” And then he could not think what it could possibly be.
Carver seems to be a bit of a folk hero; the fact that he died young and sober after being a raging drunk for many years gives him some notoriety and mystery. I want to read more of his stories. This book contains the stories that he selected. Before he died he suggested that there were some of his stories that he would NOT select. But, in spite of that, his heirs collected many unpublished stories and made new books, even new collections after he was dead and buried.
I just kept reading this book. No good reason. It seemed as depressing as all get out to tell you the truth. But then I got into the new stories that were at the end of the book. Remember that I said the stories were “generally in chronological order”? So the new stories are the most recent stories.
And it occurs to me that with these new stories you can sob and cry OR YOU CAN BREAK INTO LAUGHTER. You had to stop being so serious and LAUGH! So I did and I loved the feeling. Thank you, Mr. Raymond Carver! The new stories were the best stories – maybe because they were written when he had been sober the longest. He may not have been a nice drunk; some of the people in his previously published stories are certainly not nice. He seemed quite well acquainted with them however. This is not to say that the characters in the new stories are nice. They are not especially. But I got more enjoyment from those stories.
Five grateful stars as I realized that things just could NOT be as bad as all that. There is drama. There is pessimism. There is riveting writing.
The 1993 Robert Altman film Short Cuts is based on Carver short stories and is available on DVD.
As you delve more deeply into the life and writing career of Mr. Carver, the roles of both his editor/agent, Gordon Lish, and his biographer, Carol Sklenicka, become more convoluted and entwined with his life. Both are people I would like to know more about as I try to understand Mr. Carver. (less)
I am one of those who enjoyed most of the short stories in this Collected Stories of Carson McCullers more than the longer "The Ballad of the Sad Café...moreI am one of those who enjoyed most of the short stories in this Collected Stories of Carson McCullers more than the longer "The Ballad of the Sad Café" and "The Member of the Wedding" the first time around. But now that I have spent more time with the longer stories (including watching each in its movie version) I have to admit that their complexity is growing on me.
I like short stories because, well, because they are short! I can keep the whole story in front of me at once, decide pretty quickly if I like it and know if I have a clue what it is all about. Then I can go on to the next story. I like that sometimes.
Now, with something longer I am apt to be liking some parts and not so much others. I wonder what is going on, how it goes together and what it means anyway. If I can watch the movie, get more ideas to help me replay it in my mind, so much the better.
Maybe it is just that at times I want to be lazy and entertained and sometimes I am more willing to dig a little and be challenged. So it is likely more about me than about the works of art.
** In March, 2014 On the Southern Literary Trail (a GR online reading group) chose The Ballad of the Sad Café and Other Stories to read. Although I did not have that particular book, all the stories in that book are also included in Collected Stories. The stories in Sad Café are marked within this review with the bold asterisks. **
The sixteen year old boy shares a bedroom with his twelve year old boy cousin whom he calls Sucker. There is angst and anger and other feelings. If you already know McCullers, it seems like the perfect place to start her book. If you don’t know McCullers, you get to know her right quick as these feelings are her bread and butter.
The Court in the West Eighties is a multistory apartment building in New York. She is an eighteen year old first year college student who watches her neighbors very carefully, voyeuristically, and tells us what she sees and feels.
Much of the author’s best fiction was germinating during her first three years in New York City before she was married, but she made little attempt to publish what she was writing. In 1939, while living with her husband in Fayetteville, North Carolina, McCullers sent “Sucker” and “Court in the West Eighties” to Maxim Lieber, a New York literary agent who agreed to try to market them for her, and both pieces made the rounds quickly from magazine to magazine without success. Lieber’s failure to place “Sucker” worked, eventually, to McCullers’ advantage in that she received $1,500 for its publication in The Saturday Evening Post in 1963 (in contrast to the $25 she received for her first published story, “Wunderkind”).
The stories rush by, strange, sometimes eerie and sad. In Poldi is it the same cellist across the court as in the last story? Would that be too cute for Carson McCullers to do? She was just a kid when she started writing. Breath from the Sky is a short story about a young girl with pleurisy who is sad and has an unpleasant relationship with her mother. A girl shares her view of The Orphanage from when she was seven years old and the Home had a “mysterious ugliness.” A very drunk couple shares the Instant of the Hour After, a very small party. A girl is thirteen years old and her sister is eighteen. She ends the story Like That saying, “I don’t want to grow up – if it’s like that.”
I hear the story of the conflicted fifteen year old pianist in ** Wunderkind and it is the life of the young Carson McCullers I am experiencing. I cannot separate the author from her work. It all seems so autobiographical and so sad and so hopeless.
Her biographer Virginia Spencer Carr says the “immense complexity of love” appears repeatedly in McCullers’ writing and it is not a successful love as far as I can tell. McCullers suffered her first serious stroke at the age of 30 and died when she was 50 in 1967. This made her a contemporary of my parents who were born in 1920.
The short stories continue with one titled The Aliens about a Jewish man traveling on a bus from New York City to a new home in the south. He encounters other travelers and thinks about his family and his life. This is a story that seems much different from the others in content but it is in the somber and thoughtful McCullers style common to her writing.
Every book of short stories has to have at least one that you do not much like. Untitled Piece is that one for me in this book. Reminiscence while drunk is just not my thing. “Will you tell me the name of this place?”
** The Jockey is five pages long. It has problematic alcohol, a regular in the McCullers’ stable. It has tension and some unstated underlying story. Also common for McCullers. Men are called libertines. A lot is packed into one hotel dining room interaction between the all male cast of principals where violence is palpable.
** Madame Zilensky and the King of Finland is slightly longer, six pages, and, with the inclusion of a dog running backwards (or was it a god?), it is both stranger and more humorous. What can one believe when it comes from the mouth of Carson McCullers?
Correspondence is a juvenile look at an international pen pal experience. I suppose the idea is for the author to put herself in the place of a twelve year old but I don’t think it works.
Sometimes when I review a book of short stories, I pick out a sentence from each story. I did that with a Richard Brautigan book once. He wrote some weird stories too and died young. I picked this sentence for ** A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud: “He sure has done a lot of traveling” is the truth for a young boy at the end of his paper route after a man in a café tells him of a search for a lost love.
A working class guy who has worked himself into a higher class wife and culture, claps at the wrong time during a classical performance in Art and Mr. Mahoney, a very short story that made me cringe.
There are children in some of the short stories. For example, ** The Sojourner has children on both sides of the Atlantic. John Ferris meets the children of his ex-wife in New York City and returns to Paris to the young son of his current lover. The children are innocent, not yet exposed to the harshness of the world. Life is the moment and not the past or the future, the secret lives and broken promises of their parents.
** A Domestic Dilemma is the story of alcohol disrupting the life of a young father who fears for the safety of his children left with their drunken mother whose “full-bosomed, slender and undulant” body he still craves. McCullers tells a story well from the male point of view.
The Haunted Boy is about a child’s fear of re-experiencing the afternoon he found his mother’s bloody body in the bathroom after school. His father comforts his fear by saying, “Nobody can be nervous before they are sixteen years old.”
I love it when a writer writes a story where the protagonist is a writer. Carson McCullers writes a short story about a writer lost in insanity in Who Has Seen the Wind? Could the story be autobiographical? Carson must have spent some of her time clinging to sanity and then writing about it.
** The Ballad of the Sad Café probably would have us focused on McCullers’ stroke-deformed body and bisexual leaning if we had ever known her in person. From the age of six she thought she was a man in a woman’s body and at the age of thirty she suffered a stroke that paralyzed her left side significantly. “The Ballad of the Sad Café” became a 1963 Broadway play adapted for the stage by no less than Edward Albee and then a 1991 movie long after McCullers’ death. The movie is available to stream for free online and is eerily faithful to the story.
Born in 1917 in Columbus, Georgia, Lula Smith lived most of her adult life in New York and Europe. Somehow she has maintained her notoriety as a Southern Gothic writer known by her married name of Carson McCullers but she made her money on best seller books in the 1940s and successful Broadway plays in the 1950s and 1960s. With debilitating health problems including alcoholism and enough money to live comfortably, her writing suffered.
** The Member of the Wedding was written in 1946 when Caron McCullers was in her late 20s. It is set in 1944 in a small southern town with WWII in the background. The main character is a twelve year old girl who is struggling with growing up. The story was made into a film in 1952 after it was an award winning Broadway play. Twelve year old Frankie was played in the movie by a 27 year old actress, Julie Harris, who was also the star of the play.
You ever think you have to read too many pages to find a paragraph that you already know and don’t need anyone else to put it into words? But, after you have read it, you are glad somebody else did?
“I never did say just what I was talking about,” she said finally. “But there’s this. I wonder if you have ever thought about this. Here we are – right now. This very minute. Now. But while we’re talking right now, this minute is passing. And it will never come again. Never in all the world. When it is gone it is gone. No power on earth could bring it back again. It is gone. Have you ever thought about that?”
I didn’t need Carson McCullers to have Frankie (or F. Jasmine) say that toward the end of The Member of the Wedding, but I am glad she did and I’m glad I read it. I did have to plod a little bit to get to it, but, isn’t that just like life – sometimes it takes some plodding to get to the good stuff. It was only the middle third of the story that I got bogged down and, considering I liked the beginning and the end, that might just have been me.
This book has a wonderfully wide range of McCullers stories including some of her earliest short stories and the novellas that sprung her full bloom into the public eye when she was in her twenties. The introduction by her biographer, Virginia Spencer Carr, is an added plus. I expect that I may come back to this book if I ever manage to read her long biography The Lonely Hunter .
I am giving The Collected Stories of Carson McCullers a weak four stars. Weak based on the length of time it took this book to get under my skin. If I would have rushed through it, as some of the short stories allowed me to do, I would have given it three stars. But the two novellas at the end of the book Sad Café and Wedding combined with watching their movie versions, slowed me down enough to let their potential power sink in. If you are sharp enough and determined enough, these are probably five star stories that are pulled down only by the brevity of the stories accompanying them.
I am attracted to the idea of short stories so sometimes I have gone on a run of buying used short story books. So it makes sense that I might occasio...moreI am attracted to the idea of short stories so sometimes I have gone on a run of buying used short story books. So it makes sense that I might occasionally go on a run of reading short story books. I am not familiar with this author and had no special reason that I can recall for picking out The Night in Question.
But the first story intrigues me so I think I will read on. A writer has recently landed a job as the obituary man for the local paper but is fired when one of his subjects turns up alive. It seems he called in his own death to see what would be written. The conversation is serious and fun and illuminating. What else does this Tobias Wolff have on his mind?
I bought the book used and it is inscribed: “For Puckett Love Karen” on the front page. The story “Powder” has the handwritten note “Jessie really liked this one and I think you will too.” This is the extra benefit of a previously read book. It is like reading GR reviews that have some personality: “Really, I just bought it because there was a train on the cover.”
Bits of reviews from other Goodreaders:
These stories exhibit Wolff's strengths: brisk narrative flow, memorable characters that come to life in a few strokes, the odd nugget of wisdom, and pithy metaphors. . . . Generally, Wolff's style in these stories is to create an interesting character and situation and then to shine light on the character from multiple perspectives, sometimes delving shockingly deep into the human psyche and putting characters which I had never seen written about before on cloud-topping pedestals. . . . Strong, memorable characters? Yes. Interesting and engaging plot lines? Yes. Lots of wisdom and insight? Yes. Plenty of humor and even a few laugh-out-loud moments? Yes. And perhaps the most important, a moment capable of giving you the shivers? Yes. . . . Wolff is funny and exacting. He goes after hard detail and doesn’t repeat himself. His stories’ structures are intricate and interesting. . . . I think the problem I had most often with these stories was that so often he creates such a compelling context/etc. for the reader, invests us in the characters, makes us care, blah, and then just completely leaves the story behind, leaves so many questions unanswered, basically leaves the reader hanging for the sake of dramatic tension, and for the sake of a sometimes gorgeous/poetic concluding paragraph or sentence. . . . Clear, unpretentious, economical, wry, emotionally authentic, and with unexpected twists and developments that knocked me on my mind's ass and made me think about the stories for hours after reading them. . . . Wolff uses O Henry-like twists in some while other stories primarily show a slice of life, and usually not a particularly happy life. Sadness, loneliness, regret, struggling with moral decisions all live here. There is the odd sign or symbol of hope. There is a laugh or two to be had, but most smiles will arise from the dark irony of several of Wolff’s endings. . . . He's one of my favorite writers, so my gushing is to be expected, but I really do think this is one everyone should pick up.
The Night in Question has some five star stories. They are short enough never to get boring, never to wear out their magic words. (less)
It is always chancy to pick out a book that has a title that you do not understand. If it is a book of short stories, it can be especially dangerous s...moreIt is always chancy to pick out a book that has a title that you do not understand. If it is a book of short stories, it can be especially dangerous since the title is probably only connected with one story.
The Dead Fish Museum was published in 2006 so my aged brain classifies that as “recent.” Then I think, “Is eight years ago recent?” and I think, “Maybe not recent.”
The dust jacket of this book is a black and white photograph of old fashion typewriter keys but instead of letters, the keys contain the title of the book. Strange to have the image of an old fashion typewriter on a “recent” book.
He rolled two sheets of paper into the novelist’s Olivetti, typing the date and a salutation to his wife, then sat with his elbows on the workbench, staring. He wondered if he should drop “Dear” and go simply with “Theresa,” keeping things businesslike, a touch cold. Whenever Drummond opened a machine, he saw a life in the amphitheater of seated type bars, just as a dentist, peering into a mouth for the first time, probably understood something about the person, his age and habits and vices. Letters were gnawed and ground down like teeth, gunked up with the ink and the plaque of gum erasers, stained with everything from coffee to nicotine and lipstick, but none of his knowledge helped him now. Drummond wanted to type a letter and update his wife, but the mechanic in him felt as though the soul of what he had to say just wasn’t in the machine. He looked at the greeting again and noticed that the capital “T” in his wife’s name was faintly blurred. That sometimes happened when the type bar struck the guide and slipped sideways on impact, indicating a slight misalignment.
These snippets are from Drummond & Son, not even the title story. About a man who owns a typewriter store and works with his twenty-five year old mentally disabled son. In this one, a young man comes to pick up his renovated, ancient typewriter.
When the kid came over, he could hardly believe it was the same machine. He typed the words everyone typed: “now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their – “ “Is it ‘country’ or ‘party’?” he asked. “I see it both ways,” Drummond said. He wrote up a sales slip while the kid tapped the keys a couple of times more and looked down doubtfully at the machine. There was something off in its rightness and precision, an old and familiar antagonism gone, a testiness his fingers wanted to feel. He missed the adversity of typing across a platen pitted like a minefield, the resistance of the querulous keys that would bunch and clog. Drummond had seen this before. The kid wasn’t ready to say it yet, but half of him wanted the jalopy touch of his broken Olivetti back. “It’s different,” he said.
I can tell that this is a marvelous book. Can’t wait for the title story! Here is your spoiler for this review: (view spoiler)[ It turns out that “dead fish museum” is what the wife of a refugee from Central America calls a refrigerator because she does not know the English word. (hide spoiler)] Not much of a spoiler, right? But it gives you a sense of the tenor of the book: a little wacky.
Fine if you skipped those for the time being, but you will want to come back to them eventually if you really want to think about this high class book. As it says on the bookflap: “A must read for everyone who cares about literary writing.” Believe it! It says so right on the inside back flap of the book! Alfred A. Knopf would not shit you!
When you read a used book, you find out how many people turn over the corner of the page to mark a spot. It’s a lot!
I was afraid that this book was going to be a downer. It was not although it delved into some down situations. In this case, I think the book jacket got it right:
Many writers speak of the abyss. Charles D’Ambrosio writes as if he is inside of it, gazing upward, and the gaze itself is redemptive, a great yearning ache, poignant and wondrous, equal parts grit and grace.
I spent the book looking up with a bit of awe and glad for the perspective. Four stars easily.
P.S. The final story is titled The Bone Game. Someday someone will have to explain that story to me. I think it was quite surreal and fun but I am not sure what it all meant. Or how the ashes of a 99 year old grandfather get mixed with spawning salmon in the Pacific northwest. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
It is true that I like short stories better than most poetry. So when this book starts out with poem after poem, I am looking ahead to the prose that...moreIt is true that I like short stories better than most poetry. So when this book starts out with poem after poem, I am looking ahead to the prose that I know is just around the corner on page 36. This book is probably four stars if it is just short stories but I am impatient with too many of the poems. Not all short stories are weird. I just wanted to say that. And I should say that there is some poetry here that I liked.
This is a great coffee table book for a smallish coffee table! This particular Ploughshares has quite a a variety of writing in this small softcover book published semiannually by Emerson College in Boston. While you won't find this used unless you have a friend with back issues, there is a way to catch up with a new or electronic copy online.
This was a most enjoyable collection of short stories. Having Jim Shepard as the editor certainly contributed to the quality but the authors were all...moreThis was a most enjoyable collection of short stories. Having Jim Shepard as the editor certainly contributed to the quality but the authors were all very good. There was not one story that I did not like.
This is a great coffee table book for a smallish coffee table! This particular Ploughshares has no poetry, only short stories, nine in this small softcover book. While you won't find this used unless you have a friend with back issues, there is a way to catch up with a new or electronic copy.
This short book of short stories is thirty years old. Some of the stories in the book are over forty years old. That is another era. Some of the stori...moreThis short book of short stories is thirty years old. Some of the stories in the book are over forty years old. That is another era. Some of the stories were previously published in the magazines Ms., Mother Jones, Essence and others. Walker won a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1983 for The Color Purple so you see she can write.
Just to indicate the range of topics here, a few of the story titles are: The Lover, Coming Apart, Fame, The Abortion, and Porn. Just in case you are wondering, there are several titles with more than two words. For example: How Did I Get Away with Killing One of the Biggest Lawyers in the State? It Was Easy. Eighteen words. So now you see how averages can sometimes be deceiving.
Alice Walker is passionate and political. Maybe even fearless, but you will have to ask her about that. It is just my impression. Here is a little bit of Alice on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJR86n...
Alice Walker had a few things to teach even three decades ago. And I have a few things to learn even today. So we are a perfect match. This is a perfect lesson book for me; it is short, to the point, sometimes funny, sometimes challenging. The stories were written in the 1970s, a time of change and rebellion. The settings range back to the 1950s and then through Colored to Negro to Black.
If you are old enough to remember the 1960s and 1970s, you may find that this book feels familiar. And if you did not experience those times, much of the writing and most of the feelings maintain an authenticity that will take you to the decades when the War on Poverty and the Civil Rights Movement happened, when President Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Robert Kennedy were assassinated, when Black Power made its demands and when the War in Vietnam raged. You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down reflects that turmoil.
If you run across this book one day, and that might be very unlikely since the book is so thin and disappears on a bookshelf among its larger siblings, and have time to read just one story, read Laurel. It is short and strange and sweet.
This book will have to be four stars. It reminded me of some of my Good Ole Days and exercised my brain. Alice Walker is two years older than I am and I wonder what we would have thought of each other if we met in the 1980s when I think we were both pretty radical. (less)