After some effort this weekend, I’ve finally gotten caught up on my 2011 short story reading project. I now have only seven stories to go, and – if my calculations are correct – I also have seven Saturday’s left in 2011. I’ve even already started to assemble my stories for 2012, when I intend to have a new “deck” to draw from which to draw my random “story of the week.”
What stories have I read recently to catch up? So nice of you to ask! There were quite a few the past few days…
1) “The Cock Lane Ghost” by Howard Pyle
Although this one was in one of my short story anthologies, I’m not even sure it was intended as a work of fiction. It’s more just a recounting of a famous ‘haunting’ case in London where a young girl heard numerous “rapping/tapping” and “gnawing” noises when in bed in her home on London’s Cock Lane. Allegedly, this famous case was widely considered to be “real” even after it had been debunked upon closer examination. (So often is the case where the credulous cling to their initial beliefs). This “story” I largely considered a waste of time.
2) “Babylon Revisited” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
This was a much more pedigreed short story, one that I’m sure many of you have heard of. The other two short works of Fitzgerald’s that I’ve read were more along the supernatural front, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” both of which were welcome additions to my collection of read stories. This one is the poignant tale of Charlie Wales, a formerly “dissipated” man who lost his fortune (in the market crash of 1929) and his wife (to suicide), leaving his daughter in the custody of his sister-in-law and her husband. Seemingly reformed and with his life back on track he is concentrating his efforts on reuniting with his daughter. Circumstances throw obstacles in his way during this sad tale. Descriptions of his “old life” led me to think he would have been at home as one of the people hanging out with the main character in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises.
3) “H.P.” by S. Baring-Gould
This one was a ghost story quite dissimilar from all that I had perviously encountered. Not knowing anything about it, I wondered if the title referred to that master of horror, H.P. Lovecraft. But no, it refers to the ghost, “Homo Paleolithicus” (or something like that). An archaeologist is temporarily trapped amongst his excavations of a primitive skeleton by a cave in…
4) “Soldier’s Home” by Ernest Hemingway
This one was recommended to me by fellow blogger, Jillian, over at A Room With a View (link on my blogroll). I read another Hemingway story earlier in the year as part of my project (“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”) which I really, really liked and wrote a blog post about, after which I received several recommendations for other Hemingway stories to read. (I have a whole book of them!). This one was very sad as well, though, dealing with the return home of a soldier with what would today be called at least a mild case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Harold Krebs’s thoughts on how different his once familiar world now is to him are fascinating.
5) “A White Heron” by Sarah Orne Jewett
I’d read this story years ago, but didn’t remember too much about it. In fact, over the years I think it had become muddled with a similar story I read (which I also don’t remember!). The story deals with a young girl, living in isolation with her mother in a modest cabin in the woods. One day, she encounters a young man walking in the woods with a gun. He is hunting birds, and collects them (stuffed by a taxidermist after he shoots them). He charms the girl at first, and when she learns that he is particularly interested in a White Heron, she hopes to gain his favor by determining the location of its nest. She does this after scaling the highest tree in the area (a passage described beautifully by Jewett). On her way back to meet the young man, however, she has second thoughts about revealing the bird’s location…
6) “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
This was another favorite that I revisited for this project. When I first read it years ago, it kind of reminded me of the classic movie, Gaslight, starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman (yum yum), wherein an evil, scheming husband tries to convince his wife that she’s losing her mind. In this story, the husband’s motive is presumably innocent, but his attentions to his wife are having the same effect. Staying in a rented country manor for a few months, he chooses a room on the second floor as their bedroom. Unfortunately for his wife, who is “recovering” her health from what sounds like a mental imbalance or “hysteria,” the room contains the most disconcerting yellow wallpaper, which over the course of the story takes on a life of its own. Gilman’s description of the wife’s journey into “madness” is riveting.
7) “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” by Raymond Carver
A local book discussion group (whose meetings I keep missing) is actually meeting to discuss this story on Wednesday evening, so I’m glad it came up in my random order. A great short story dealing with two couples who are sitting around a dining room table drinking gin and tonics and musing over what the true meaning of love is, and what forms it may take. E.g. One of the women was previously in an abusive relationship but maintains her ex-husband loved her, while her current husband disagrees. The other couple are younger and have only been together for eighteen months, their love not yet having been fully “tested.” A thought provoking short story that made me thirsty for a drink of gin… I don’t know much about Carver, but I seem to recall he struggled with alcohol-related problems, which is maybe why his descriptions of this “drinking party” seem so realistic and thirst-inducing. 🙂
Have you read any of these stories or authors? Which are your favorites? Can you recommend any stories for me to include in my 2012 Short Story reading schedule?