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The Cracked Looking-Glass

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'She only wished to prove to herself she was once more on a train going somewhere'

A passionate, unfulfilled woman considers her life and her marriage in this moving novella by one of America's finest short story writers.

Penguin Modern: fifty new books celebrating the pioneering spirit of the iconic Penguin Modern Classics series, with each one offering a concentrated hit of its contemporary, international flavour. Here are authors ranging from Kathy Acker to James Baldwin, Truman Capote to Stanislaw Lem and George Orwell to Shirley Jackson; essays radical and inspiring; poems moving and disturbing; stories surreal and fabulous; taking us from the deep South to modern Japan, New York's underground scene to the farthest reaches of outer space.

64 pages, Paperback

First published February 22, 2018

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About the author

Katherine Anne Porter

126 books311 followers
Katherine Anne Porter was a Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist, essayist, short story writer, novelist, and political activist. She is known for her penetrating insight; her works deal with dark themes such as betrayal, death and the origin of human evil.
See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katherin...

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5 stars
20 (6%)
4 stars
70 (22%)
3 stars
146 (46%)
2 stars
58 (18%)
1 star
19 (6%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 39 reviews
Profile Image for Sara.
Author 1 book489 followers
July 22, 2019
Beautifully done story about a woman married to a much older man, who finds herself discontent with her life as he begins to show unwelcome signs of his age. Rosaleen thinks about her past, younger men who still admire her, and the disadvantages of being married to someone who is no longer the virile and strong man she married.

Porter does a marvelous job of imagining both sides of this situation and resolves it in a way that I found most satisfying. It reads like a novel more than a short story, being long enough to give some true character and plot development.
Profile Image for Kirsty.
2,692 reviews177 followers
September 7, 2018
The thirty-seventh book on the Penguin Moderns list, The Cracked Looking-Glass by American author Katherine Anne Porter, was one which I was particularly intrigued by.  In this story, which was first published in 1922, 'a passionately unfulfilled woman considers her life and her marriage'.  This woman is named Rosaleen; she has been married to Dennis, thirty years her senior, for over two decades, and the pair live on a farm in rural Connecticut.

I particularly enjoyed the opening scenes of the story, in which Porter sets both scenes, and the complexities of marriage, with precision and beauty.  She writes: 'Dennis heard Rosaleen talking in the kitchen and a man's voice answering.  He sat with his hands dangling over his knees, and thought for the hundredth time that sometimes Rosaleen's voice was company to him, and other days he wished all day long she didn't have so much to say about everything.'  

Porter is so aware of her characters' flaws, and how these adapt with the passing of time.  During their anniversary dinner, for instance, 'He looked at her sitting across the table from him and thought she was a very fine woman, noticed again her red hair and yellow eyelashes and big arms and strong big teeth, and wondered what she thought of him now he was no human good to her.  Here he was, all gone, and he had been so for years, and he felt guilt sometimes before Rosaleen, who couldn't always understand how there comes a time when  man is finished, and there is no more to be done that way.'

The Cracked Looking-Glass is quite tender in places.  Of Rosaleen, Porter writes: 'She wished now she'd had a dozen children instead of the one that died in two days.  This half-forgotten child suddenly lived again her, she began to weep for him with all the freshness of her first agony; now he would be a fine grown man and the dear love of her heart.'  Given that this is a short story, there is a lot of depth here, and we learn a lot about the pasts of the characters, and how this has affected their present-day lives.

The looking glass of the story's title is square in shape, and positioned in the living room.  'There was,' writes Porter, 'a ripple in the glass and a crack across the middle, and it was like seeing your face in water.'  Throughout the story, Rosaleen views herself in it, and Porter records her thoughts.  With this technique, and the scenes which she records, Porter has been able to create a fascinating portrait of a complex and complicated, and incredibly realistic, woman.  The Cracked Looking-Glass also presents a searing portrait of a troubled marriage in a skilfully crafted way.   I was reminded somewhat of Katherine Mansfield whilst I was reading, one of the highest accolades which I could give; not so much because of Porter's prose style, but due to the way in which she builds her characters and their histories.
Profile Image for Dane Cobain.
Author 29 books311 followers
July 30, 2018
This book is a weird one because while I did enjoy reading it, I can’t think of anything in particular to highlight. The best parts were just little lines of dialogue, but the stories were decent as well.

Profile Image for Peter.
777 reviews114 followers
January 16, 2019
Well that was disappointing, a well written book of nothing. A young girl marries a man thirty years older than herself, moans and whines about it until the end.

If Katherine Porter is considered one of America's finest short-story writers, then please, don't let me read the bad ones.
38 reviews
March 10, 2023
Beautiful novella about a woman who married an older man, now working out what to make of her quiet life in the countryside in Connecticut. Realistic portrayal of marriage for its setting. Wistful rather than sad; “She was wondering what had become of her life; every day she had thought something great was going to happen, and it was all just straying from one disappointment to another.” Highly likeable protagonist and loved her little taste of independence when she travels to Boston to try and see her sister. Can’t help feeling Rosaleen goes on to live a fuller and more exciting life when her aging husband dies. Would love to read more by this writer!
Profile Image for Bookishbong  Moumita.
401 reviews80 followers
May 5, 2019
The book started with thrill but as the plot goes up the story becomes lucid. Lots of extra pulling of the situation . I don't want to recommend this .
Profile Image for James.
241 reviews
June 21, 2021
Sometimes you read a book and it's not bad but it just makes no impression on you. I think this was one of those.
Profile Image for Kathryn.
301 reviews46 followers
January 9, 2023
A short story about an unhappy marriage with a 30-year age gap (she must be around 40, he’s around 70), tenderly told. She feels unfulfilled and nostalgic about memories of offers of love and intimacy gone by; he feels guilty about the decrepitude brought by his age and resentful of his passionate wife’s tendency to talk idly and embellish her life to others. It seemed a realistic portrayal of old age and two discontented people stuck together, with nothing to look forward to and past opportunities so irrevocably distant as to be unreal.
Profile Image for faryna syaza.
67 reviews6 followers
February 26, 2023
this is my first ever classic that ive ever picked up & actually finished it? so technically, i couldn’t really understand what’s really happening in here but yea i just you know
Profile Image for John Naylor.
908 reviews15 followers
April 16, 2020
A short novella in a series that is great for introducing readers to new (and old) authors in bite-sized chunks.

This does convey a lot in a few pages. You near enough get to read about an entire life (up the the present when it was written.) There is no real plot or progression but it does evoke a sense of belonging and how a character doesn't feel like they do.

3 stars. Worth a look but also nothing groundbreaking here.
Profile Image for Mélie Nasr.
Author 3 books11 followers
October 18, 2018
Quick and classic. Nothing much happens other than a short trip to the city, but Porter's evocation of an ageing couple's quiet life is riveting. There's a certain dose of tenderness for the characters' flaws, especially Rosaleen, who is something of a dithering, lying, racist heap of vanity. Porter never excuses them, just mocks them the way you'd mock your own relatives.

The prose is finely chiselled and at the end of the read, you'll feel like you've just visited your strange country great aunt and uncle. The ones who never quite realised they were bored with their lives and could have had it better.

Now for the rest of Porter's works!
Profile Image for Isadora.
11 reviews1 follower
July 4, 2021
It's a very short book and not plot driven but it's charming. You get a glimpse into the lives of the two charecters and feel like you know them so well by the end even having read much less than 100 pages about them. It's about a woman looking hack at her marriage and recflecting on her life and there are lots of hidden symbols to watch out for. I feel like if I read this in a few years I will find things I missed out on!
Profile Image for Katherine  Katsanou.
3 reviews1 follower
March 19, 2020
Porter hid a bunch of messages between the words regarding life, dreams, illusions about the world, marriage and how you change with the person beside you, and you should be the one to uncover them by reading this captivating novel.
Profile Image for Milena.Reads.
73 reviews137 followers
December 1, 2020
A very intriguing story about two people who are neither nice or truthful, it reminded me a bit of ‘Ethan Frome’ by Edith Wharton.
Profile Image for Alyssa.
113 reviews
August 18, 2022
I loved this mini Penguin Modern book "The Cracked Looking Glass." At only 55 pages, it's the perfect quick read for when you are in between books. I would definitely read it again.

Rosaleen and Dennis, Irish living in America, have been married for a long time. Rosaleen is a good storyteller and likes to embellish when talking with the neighbours. Dennis secretly wishes he could pipe up and say "stop it." Dissatisfied with her life and believing her "visions" Rosaleen takes a trip to visit her sister and along the way finds that actually, maybe her life isn't so bad after all.
Profile Image for Stephen Toman.
Author 6 books13 followers
July 7, 2019
Wonderful wee book. One of those “short novels” that offers a snapshot of an entire life, enough detail for you to fill in the gaps yourself (I’ll take that any day over an over descriptive tome). Subtly brilliant writing — dialogue, free indirect speech, and a third person narrator who is not quite able to keep their opinions to themselves. Sort of a precursor to what Denis Johnson did years later in Train Dreams.
Profile Image for Anthony.
5,360 reviews24 followers
November 5, 2020
Rosaleen O'Toole, a young woman who married an older, established man finds herself longing for passion in her marriage and fills the void with dreaming and conversation with visitors. Her husband Henry is somewhat better for marrying a younger woman fills his days of sitting and smoking his pipe. The surrounding community has distaste toward their relationship, but can do nothing about it. This novella reveals an underlying contempt of jealously and distrust throughout the story.
Profile Image for Russio.
957 reviews
June 22, 2018
Reasonably interesting story of a couple with a large age gap who hit a slightly rocky patch. Written in an Irish brogue that sings through the page, this feels very authentically voiced , even if the story lacks a little zing in the plot.
Profile Image for max mountstephens .
119 reviews1 follower
December 31, 2022
Racist… and what makes it especially bad is that it isn’t a character in the story being racist, the way it is written it is obviously the opinion of the author :(; apart from that still a very average book;
Profile Image for Jonas Pihl.
171 reviews6 followers
February 16, 2023
The Cracked Looking-Glass is a short story by Katherine Anne Porter, about a young woman who feels unfulfilled.

I guess it was fine? The writing was certainly good. But the book felt bland and empty. It was a lot of well written nothing.
2 stars.
Profile Image for Ely.
1,321 reviews111 followers
May 21, 2018
Feel kind of silly DNFing something this short, but this was boring and confusing.
Profile Image for Grace Backler.
202 reviews22 followers
December 19, 2018
My least favourite of the Penguin Modern series that I have read, I was not intrigued and found it to be slightly confusing.
1 review1 follower
February 16, 2019
A great story!! It’s easy to miss all the little details and symbols in this book. It has to be read very carefully in order to be able to make sense out of it. Nevertheless, very interesting.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 39 reviews

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