The Easter Egg by Saki

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I was looking around for some “Easter-type” short stories to read for this weekend and found one on line, H.H. Munro’s (a.k.a. Saki) “The Easter Egg” that I thought would fit the bill. I was actually looking more for stories in the “spirit” of Easter than this one turned out to be, but I’m glad I read it nonetheless…

Madame Barbara is ashamed of her son, Lester, who has proven time and time again that, unlike the “good fighting stock” of the family which he was born into, he has all the worst qualities of a coward. Saki describes Lester and his shortcomings wonderfully:

“As a child he had suffered from childish timidity, as a boy from unboyish funk, and as a youth he had exchanged unreasoning fears for others which were more formidable from the fact of having a carefully-thought-out basis. He was frankly afraid of animals, nervous with firearms, and never crossed the Channel without mentally comparing the numerical proportion of life belts to passengers. On horseback he seemed to require as many hands as a Hindu god, at least four for clutching the reins, and two more for patting the horse soothingly on the neck.”

If the hapless Lester were not offered some chance to redeem himself for his life of craven timidity, this wouldn’t be a short story worthy of Saki, though, would it? The opportunity presents itself when he and his mother travel to Knobaltheim “…one of those small princedoms that make inconspicuous freckles on the map of Central Europe.” It seems the Prince, a steadfast representative of the old guard of Europe and opposed to “progress” is coming to town for some grand affair. Among the gifts for this dignitary is the Easter Egg in the title of the story. But something seems not quite right about this and Lester is the first to notice…

I’ll leave the details for those industrious enough to read the story. I was particularly fond of the last lines of this story, which are quite good and almost goose-bump inducing. A very short story and worth a read.

The story may be read at http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/EasEgg.shtml

Or listen via YouTube at http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=wc6EUa7Mra4

I own a copy of Saki’s collected stories, pictured above, but rather than dig it out, I read this one on line at the link provided above.

(below: Illustration from Oscar Wilde’s “The Selfish Giant”)

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Two other short stories I like to read around Easter are Oscar Wilde’s “The Selfish Giant”  and Leo Tolstoy’s “The Three Hermits” (which I also once blogged about here). Both are quite good and are appropriate for the season, I think.

Have you read any of these stories? What do you think of Saki’s works? Do you do any special reading around this holiday?

(Below: gratuitous picture of my Mom’s Easter Egg tree.  Did anyone else grow up with an easter egg tree in the house each year?)

 

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Deal Me in 2014 weekly wrap up (and my selection, “Miracle Polish” by Steven Milhauser)

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As I noted in the sign-up post, I’ll be posting a weekly update for the Deal Me In Short Story Reading Challenge. I’ll try to do these regularly on sunday evenings, and will include links to what others have posted since the last update.

I’d also like to thank Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste for upgrading our unofficial logo (pictured above) for this challenge.  I love it! Feel free to use it in your weekly posts if you’d like.

So, What are other Deal Me In 2014 participants reading this week? See the following:

Dale at Mirror With Clouds on Saki’s “The Recessional”

The Returning Reader ‘walks into Omelas’ for the Ursula K. LeGuin Classic “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”

Hanne at Reading on Cloud 9 shares her thoughts on Steven Milhauser’s “Thirteen Wives”

Katherine at Writerly Reader read the classic M.R. James ghost story “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad”

These are the posts I found as I went to press with this post.  If you finished a post on another story for your week one, you can also link to it in the comments to this post.

So, we’re off and running with DMI2014! As I said I’ll be doing a kind of round up post on Sundays.  We’re a small enough group I can probably just manually do these posts with the links.  If you’re a regular reader who’s not taking part in the challenge, please consider visiting some of these other blogs written by fellow fans of the short story.

Now for my week 1 entry:

“Miracle Polish” by Steven Milhauser

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Story #1 of my fourth annual “Deal Me In” Short Story Reading Project (see here for details on the project). This week I drew the Jack of Spades, which I had assigned to this short story – first published in The November 14, 2011 issue of The New Yorker – from Steven Milhauser. I first discovered Milhauser via his excellent short story, “Phantoms,” which was part of my project last year. I own “Miracle Polish” as part of The Best American Short Stories 2012 anthology. As of this writing, it can be read for free online here

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“Miracle Polish” is the story of an unnamed narrator who, against his better judgment, allows a traveling salesman admittance to his house. The salesman sells bottles of a mirror cleanser called “Miracle Polish.” Milhauser’s skills and attention to detail are on display in the opening of the story, especially in his descriptions of the salesman. How carrying his heavy suitcase has “pulled him a little to the side, so that one of his jacket cuffs was higher than the other…” Pitying the salesman, he resolves to buy a bottle. The stranger seemed “surprised, even suspicious, when I said I’d take one, as if he wandered the earth for years with the same case filled to bursting with unsold bottles.”

Though the narrator is by all accounts a fully rational man (“I wasn’t the kind of man who looked at himself in mirrors. I was the kind of man who spent as little time as possible in front of mirrors, the kind of man who had a brisk and practical relation to his reflection.”) he notices something strange when he first uses the polish to clean a smudge on a mirror. Realizing that now the REST of the mirror looks dull, he cleans the whole thing. That’s when the fun begins.

Something “magical” happens to the reflection of the narrator. His “new” reflection is clearly him, yet a different him, full of potential and promise. A “man who believed in things.” He begins to become obsessed with mirrors, buying one after another and treating them with the miracle polish. His relationship with his girlfriend, whose image is also enhanced by the miracle polish-treated mirrors, is affected. Concerned with his seeming obsession, she even goes so far as to say “You know, sometimes I think you like me better there (pointing to a mirror) than here (pointing to herself)”

Predictably, things cannot go on this way,and the story reaches a disturbing(?) climax. At least I thought it did. Others may feel differently. I also got the feeling while reading that the story would be easily adapted into a script for the old Twilight Zone series.

In the “Contributor’s Notes” section of my book, Milhauser himself says of this story: “I was seized by the desire to write a mirror story, but that was as far as things went. Every possibility seemed boring or frivolous. I turned my attention to something else. One day it came to me: the mirror shouldn’t be a gateway to a fantastic world, but should behave very quietly. This thought, or instinct, propelled me to this story.” Nice.

What about you? Have you read anything by Steven Milhauser? What do you think of him? What short stories have YOU read lately.

For another great “mirror story” try Haruki Murakami’s “The Mirror,” which I wrote briefly about in 2012

Would you like to join the “Deal Me In 2014” short story reading challenge? “Late-joining” is allowed! 🙂 See the challenge home page

Some other bloggers’ thoughts that I found on this story:
http://sloopie72.wordpress.com/2012/11/10/bass-2012-steven-millhauser-miracle-polish-from-the-new-yorker-111411/

http://perpetualfolly.blogspot.com/2011/11/new-yorker-miracle-polish-by-steven.html

http://www.ann-graham.com/2013/02/steven-millhauser-miracle-polish.html

http://mookseandgripes.com/reviews/2011/11/11/steven-millhauser-miracle-polish/

(below: Will NOT cause supernatural results)

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(Below: MAY cause supernatural results)

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