Friday, July 30, 2010

"The Valiant Woman." JF Powers.

Review: "Valiant?" Rather, rude and impudent woman. Marriage is a relative term. The relationship between a priest and his female housekeeper is, in this story, like a marriage. She is constantly gossiping, giving her opinion on everything and the priest is like a henpecked husband, absorbing it all. And every night they play cards. And every night Father Firman wonders why he does not do something about Mrs. Stoner, and every night he dredges up excuses why he can't. So the course of life goes on and on and on and on. The same drama is played out again and again, day after day.
Short Story Masterpieces. Ed. RP Warren and A. Erskine. New York: Dell Books. 1954.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

"Flowering Judas." Katherine Anne Porter

Review: The disillusion of Laura a young woman who represents true revolutionary ideals contrasted with the hypocritical, fat, slovenly Braggioni, a powerful revolutionary leader in Mexico. He is a dangerous man and she must walk a fine line not to anger him. The Judas Tree, of course, is named for the betrayer of Christ. This short story has much symbolism. And Laura's dream about being led by Eugenio, who has died from taking a drug overdose, to the faraway land of death after she has eaten the flowers of the Judas Tree is powerful indeed. A true nightmare.
On one level, this story can be read as a mood piece centered on disillusionment with life and shattered ideals. You will need to type "Flowering Judas" into the search engines Bing or Google in order to find
interpretations of this story, its symbolism and its language. Such interpretations are beyond the scope of this short story review, which is designed to introduce you to the story so that you can read it in depth.

Short Story Masterpieces. Ed. RP Warren and A. Erskine. New York: Dell Books. 1954.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

"'Nightingales Sing." Elizabeth Parsons.

Review: A moment to remember. Perfect enjoyment of an experience. Phil and Joanna visit a horse farm belonging to Sandy. His "friend" is Chris—even though Sandy has a wife living in Texas. Everything is comfortable. The couples get along together perfectly. It's the kind of experience in which happiness is unbroken and "all the nightingales sing."

Short Story Masterpieces. Ed. RP Warren and A. Erskine. New York: Dell Books. 1954.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"Innocence." Sean O'Faolain

Review: Memory of a confession to a priest forty years ago when the narrator was a very young boy. An old priest in an old church heard his confession and the old priest groaned when the young boy told his sin. He had picked it out from a list of sins consulted before going to confession. He admitted to committing adultery—without having any idea what it was and the old priest only groaned and did not tell him what it was.
When he confessed his sin of adultery to another priest, a younger man, the priest assured him that he could not have committed that particular sin because one had to be married to commit it, and at seven years old, that was not possible. The younger priest asked the young boy to pray for him, said that he was a very good little boy and sent him away from the confessional filled with joy.

Short Story Masterpieces. Ed. RP Warren and A. Erskine. New York: Dell Books. 1954. "The

Monday, July 26, 2010

"My Oedipus Complex." Frank O'Connor

Review: Father was away for WWI. Larry was his mother's only concern during that time. She and Larry would pray for Father's safe return. Well, he returned and Larry regretted it in a hurry. Now Larry had to compete with his father for his mother's attention. It was a bitter battle.
Walking with Father was like walking with a mountain. When Father wanted to stop, Father stopped and Larry came to an abrupt standstill.
When a new baby, Sonny, came into the house, Sonny replaced Father in Mother's bed as Sonny wailed and wailed. And Father slept with Larry. Larry comforted him.
Adults from a child's point of view.
Quote: "Mommy," I said, "do you know what I'm going to do when I grow up?" 
 "No, dear," she replied. "What?" 
"I'm going to marry you."

Thursday, July 22, 2010

"The Sojourner." Carson McCullers.

Review: A mood piece. Wasted years Wasted loves. Wasted life. Rootlessness. Lack of a wholesome married life.

Passing through New York City, on his way to Paris the next day to meet with his current romantic interest, Janine, Ferris sees again his ex-wife Elizabeth, divorced eight years ago. He follows her, but does not catch up to her. On a whim, he calls her. She and her husband have a theater engagement that night, but Elizabeth invites him for an early dinner. Memories flood back of his years with Elizabeth, her beautiful artistry on the piano. And she now has children by her second marriage.

Ferris longs for Elizabeth’s settled life. He begins to realize the need to stop being a transient in a hurry between engagements. In Paris, Janine is singing in a night club, but he sees again Janine’s young son. He had once planned to go to a puppet show with Janine’s son, but he had had another engagement and could not make it. Ferris is determined to take the boy this time, but the boy says the puppet theater is closed.

“Again, the terror, the acknowledgment of wasted years and death.”

Short Story Masterpieces. Ed. RP Warren and A. Erskine. New York: Dell Books. 1954.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"Cruel and Barbarous Treatment." Mary McCarthy.

Review: Case history of an extra-marital love affair. Perceptions of the wife who is “engineering” the affair—manipulating lover, husband and friends in a self-directed scenario. In the end she is still playing the role, imagining how others will see her. The whole thing is coolly calculated.

Quote: “She could not bear to hurt her husband…. This was true, and yet she knew that being a potential divorcee was deeply pleasurable in somewhat the same way that being an engaged girl had been.”

Quote: “…and, if she gloated at all, it was over her fine restraint in not gloating.”

Quote: “She got no fun, she told the Young Man, out of putting horns on her darling’s [husband’s] head….”

Quote: “She was not disappointed. She told him at breakfast in a fashionable restaurant, because, she said, he would be better able to control his feelings in public. When he called at once for the check, she had a spasm of alarm lest in an access of brutality or grief he leave her there alone, conspicuous, nay, as it were unfulfilled.”

Quote: “Terrified, she wondered whether she had not already prolonged the dream beyond its natural limits….”

Short Story Masterpieces. Ed. RP Warren and A. Erskine. New York: Dell Books. 1954.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"The Outstation." W. Somerset Maugham.

Review: Mr. Warburton is a British snob. He is the superior official in the outstation, 200 miles from civilization. He dresses in white for breakfast. He dresses in whites for dinner. H smokes his cheroot after dinner. He has a drink at 6 o’clock in the evening before dinner.

And then along comes Mr. Cooper, assigned as assistant to the outstation. He is a slob. The two are the odd couple. He does everything wrong. He does not treat the natives with dignity. He yells at them. He swears at them. And he soon grows to hate Mr. Warburton, the epitome of the civilized Englishman in a barbaric outpost.

Both men grow to hate the sight of each other. Mr. Warburton tries to warn Mr. Cooper to stop mistreating the natives. Mr. Cooper is contemptuous of his advice. One night while he is sleeping his heart is plunged by a knife. He is dead.

Now Mr. Warburton can return to reading his Times leisurely in the morning and dressing in his whites, an English gentleman in a primitive environment.

A study of privileged white colonialists dealing with the strains of isolation in the heart of darkness. Reminds very much of Conrad’s The Outpost of Progress.

Short Story Masterpieces. Ed. RP Warren and A. Erskine. New York: Dell Books. 1954.

Monday, July 19, 2010

"Marriage a la Mode." Katherine Mansfield

Review: William and Isabel. When young and newly married they were truly in love. But then Isabel became bored with William, a British lawyer. She picks up a group of fruity, arty friends who laugh at people, not with them. They laugh at Isabel’s husband William. She also wanted a new roomier house with servants.

But Isabel is torn. William, on his latest business trip, writes a love letter to his wife. She laughs deliriously at his emotional endearments and then reads the letter to her “friends.” When they laugh at William’s love letter to his wife, Isabel realizes how shallow they are and she is. She races into her house and up to her bedroom. She must write back to William. But the voices of her “friends” call her through the window to go swimming and she has a decision to make. Will she go with her “friends” to swim, or will she stay and write to William? She puts off writing to William and goes with her “friends.”

Short Story Masterpieces. Ed. RP Warren and A. Erskine. New York: Dell Books. 1954.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

"Virga Vay and Allan Cedar." Sinclair Lewis.

Review: Suicide pact between two lovers, married, but not to each other. She, the wife of an optician, he a dentist married to a scold who could be nicknamed “Big Bertha,” because she is the epitome of a fishwife. They arrange to slip away, under the pretext of a professional dental convention for three blissful days at a St. Paul, Minnesota, hotel.

The dentist has rigged the car so that carbon-dioxide will kill them, a plan with which she concurs. After their three-day tryst, they take the car, put the hose into the car’s interior and begin to suffocate. Along comes Big Bertha, who had enlisted the aid of her cousin, a detective, in tracking down the cheating couple, who smash  out the car windows and save them for their ignominious fate, he to live long with Bertha, the bitch, and she, to live in a far-off city with little income after her husband virtuously divorces her.

Quote: “The bell boy knew from her indifference and from her calling the man ‘husband’ that she was not married to him, but unstintingly in love. Such paradoxes are so common in his subterranean business that he had forgotten about Virga by the time he reached his bench in the lobby.”

Short Story Masterpieces. Ed. RP Warren and A. Erskine. New York: Dell Books. 1954.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

"The Horse Dealelr's Daughter." DH Lawrence.

“The Horse Dealer’s Daughter,” DH Lawrence.

Review: The what’s left of the horse dealer’s family is now bankrupt. Three brothers and their sister. In a few days, they must leave the house in which they grew up. The scene is one of melancholy and defeated spirits. The sister says almost nothing as the brothers talk about their future. A young friend of the brothers, a doctor, joins them in the house.

The sister tends the graves of her parents in the churchyard. The young doctor observes her neatly trimming the grass around the markers. She leaves the churchyard and walks toward the pond where she tries to drown herself. When the doctor realizes what she intends to do, he rushes to the pond and tries to save her. He does—barely.

The doctor carries her, unconscious, to the house where he tends to her as a doctor. He removes her sodden clothes and wraps her in a blanket. When she comes to, she realizes her nakedness beneath the blanket and suddenly assumes that the young doctor loves her. And, gradually, his professionalism becomes a growing passion. He had not intended to love her, but now he wants her. She cries both because she hopes he loves her—which he assures her he does and desires to marry her the next day—and for fear that he doesn’t love her.

Quote: “He was amazed, bewildered and afraid. He had never thought of loving her. He had never wanted to love her. When he rescued her and restored her, he was a doctor and she was a patient. He had no single personal thought of her. Nay, this introduction of the personal element was very distasteful to him, a violation of his professional honor.”

Short Story Masterpieces. Ed. RP Warren and A. Erskine. New York: Dell Books. 1954.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

"Liberty Hall." Ring Lardner.

Review: The topic is visiting others when you don’t want to. [It’s my belief that people cannot live together or visit together for more than twenty-four hours because you have your way of doing things and the other people have their way of doing things. And they are, in their house, in control. The two ways of doing things don’t work. RayS.] Ben is a composer of music for the theater. He is a very busy man. He is continually being ;pressed to “come visit us.” Ben, because of his experiences, does not want to visit other people. However, sometimes he and his wife are tricked into accepting the invitation. This is the story of one of these visits. It’s a disaster for Ben.

From the moment they arrive, Ben and his wife find themselves being controlled by the host couple. When Ben wants to smoke his favorite brand of cigarettes, he is urged by the hostess to smoke her brand. In every instance, he is required by the host or hostess to do it “their way.” Ben has even predicted that such a thing will happen, so he has asked a friend to send a telegram urging him to come back to New York to resolve some crisis. The hostess, of course, in order not to have Ben put under ;pressure and be able to relax chooses not to tell him about the telegram that was meant to give Ben and his wife their freedom.

Quote: “He absolutely abhors visiting and thinks there ought to be a law against invitations that go beyond dinner and bridge. He does not mind hotels where there is a decent light for reading in bed and one for shaving and where you can orders meals, with coffee, any time you want them. But I really believe he would refer to spend a week in the death house in Sing Sing than in somebody else’s house

Short Story Masterpieces. Ed. RP Warren and A Erskine. New York: Dell Books. 1954.

Monday, July 12, 2010

"The Boarding House." James Joyce.

Review: Mrs. Mooney, victim of a ferocious, drunken husband, a butcher, who had taken a cleaver to her, now runs a boarding house in Dublin, Ireland. Her daughter Polly has committed an indiscretion with Mr. Doran, a boarder, and now she is going to have a baby and she has told her mother everything. Crisis.

Mr. Doran, by nature, is a bachelor, but he has confessed his sin to the priest who has teased every detail about it out of him, and he is worried by the effect of the publicity on his boss at his job. In Mr. Doran’s room Polly waits on the result of Mr. Doran’s interview with her mother downstairs. At last she hears Mrs. Mooney call up to her: “Come down, dear, Mr. Dolan wants to speak to you.” What happens? Who knows? That’s the end of the story.

Short Story Masterpieces. Ed. RP Warren and A Erskine. New York: Dell Books. 1954.

Friday, July 9, 2010

"The Tree of Knowledge." Henry James.

Review: Everyone knows that the Master’s art is only mediocre. But each wants to prevent the others from learning the true quality of his work. But each does know. The problem is the motivation that each has for trying to spare the others from knowing the true quality of the placid master’s work.

Quote: “Do you know what’s the matter with me? I’m too horribly intelligent. Paris was really the last place for me. I’ve learnt what I can’t do.”

Quote: “…in learning one’s lesson, briefly, even if the lesson were simply that of one’s impotence in the presence of one’s larger vision.”

Short Story Masterpieces. Ed. RP Warren and A Erskine. New York: Dell Books. 1954. 

Thursday, July 8, 2010

"Soldier's Home." Ernest Hemingway.

Review: Krebs, home from the war, in a state of apathy, tries to avoid the complications of life.

Quote: “By the time Krebs returned to his home town in Oklahoma the greeting of heroes was over.”

Quote: “Nothing was changed in the town except that the young girls had grown up. But they lived in such a complicated world of already defined alliances and shifting feuds that Krebs did not feel the energy or the courage to break into it.”

Quote: “Vaguely he wanted a girl but he did not want to have to work to get her. He would have liked to have a girl but he did not want to have to spend a long time getting her. He did not want to get into the intrigue and the politics.”

Quote: “He did not want any consequences.”

Short Story Masterpieces. Ed. RP Warren and A Erskine. New York: Dell Books. 1954. 

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

"Winter Dreams." F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Review: Judy Jones is a tease. She toys with men, including Dexter. She always remains to him as that beautiful girl who is part of his illusions, his youth, unattainable. She comes back into his life several times, even causing him to ask her to marry him—an engagement that lasts about a month—when he is about to be engaged to another girl. But the whole beautiful illusion embodied in Judy Jones comes to an end seven years later, when, now married, with kids, she is judged by a man who knows her now, as having “faded.” Her beauty has faded, and Dexter’s youth is gone. All part of the illusion of the ephemeral, unattainable dreams of youth.

I love this sentence: “The little girl who had done this was eleven—beautifully ugly as little girls are apt to be who are destined, after a few years, to be inexpressibly lovely and bring no end of misery to a great number of men.”

Why read it? F. Scott Fitzgerald is the “poet” of the illusions of youth, regretful memories of the illusions of youth.

Short Story Masterpieces. Ed. RP Warren and A Erskine. New York: Dell Books. 1954.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

"Barn Burning." William Faulkner.

Review: The cold, heartless, passionless personality of Snopes. Accused of one barn burning at the beginning of the story, let go for lack of evidence, he is a man who lives for revenge at every slight, sometimes by burning barns. The story is told through the eyes of the little boy. Snopes, the father walks into his new employer’s house by the front door and spoils the fancy $100 rug, is ordered to clean it, but in doing so, practically destroys it. Told by his employer that the ruined rug will come out of his wages in October when the corn is harvested, Snopes intends to burn his employer’s barn. But the little boy warns the employer, who shoots his father at the burning barn. The boy walks off and doesn’t look back.

As always, Faulkner paints the setting  skillfully, describes how the rural South looks, tastes, smells and feels. The coldness, hardness, hopelessness of the amoral Snopes. And his young son who wants to do the right thing, who loves and fears his father.

Why read it? To understand how a loser feels and responds to his losing. The mood of his family’s hopelessness. The boy’s courage in trying to do the right thing, in spite of his love for and fear of his father.

Short Story Masterpieces. Ed. RP Warren and A Erskine. New York: Dell Books. 1954.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

"Open Winter." HLDavis.

“Open Winter.” HL Davis.

Review: Old Apling has agreed to herd Gervais’s horses to the train station in the town over the high lands, and he takes young Beech, willful, impetuous with him. They have to contend with the horses’ starving for want of grass because it has  been a dry winter and with lack of water. Several times they almost give up the trip and let the horses loose. They have several encounters with people who belong to the land they are crossing. They make several mistakes that almost cost them their lives. But the cool, old Apling keeps them from harm by calm reasoning.

They finally make it. They get the herd through because it was their responsibility to do so. They had agreed with Gervais to do it. They had lived in a way that others hadn’t even though the hardships and apparent meaninglessness of the trip made them at times lose faith. The old man and the youth learned from each other. The experience was worth it. And those in the town who were comfortable envied them that experience. The author’s incredible use of detail paints pictures.

Rating of this story: ***** out of *****. 

Short Story Masterpieces. Ed. RP Warren and A Erskine. New York: Dell Books. 1954.