Friday, October 24, 2008

Months and Seasons - Wendy's Book Review

These were adults with too much time on their hands. And didn’t they know that the projector, sound system, and speakers were all Japanese? Their dancing shoes were probably from Mexico or China. America’s jobs were going elsewhere and Americans were just dressing up and playing like kids. Gas prices were high. General Motors was going broke and laying off thousands - and these people were dancing. -From Months and Seasons, Dracula Slinks Into the Night, page 14-

Christopher Meeks stories are full of people who push through the obstacles of life and overcome their deepest fears in order to find joy in living. Months and Seasons, Meeks second collection of short stories is a delightful book which introduces the reader to characters who are ordinary, but in their ordinariness remind us of the common threads which bind people together.

In the story Catalina, we meet a man who is traveling to Catalina via a catamaran. He is grieving the loss of his son.

For the full hour-ride, Daunus sat outside, looking rearward into the gray wake. At one point, a white baseball cap landed in the wake. Someone lost it. His chest felt constricted. Breathing was hard. he’d given this country everything, including now his son. -From Months and Seasons, Catalina, page 37-

He meets a woman on the boat who optimistically tells him that Catalina is ‘like a persimmon - unexpected fruit on a naked tree.‘ The man’s discovery that there is still beauty in the world, despite his devastating loss, allows him to go forward into his life. This simple story is an example of the hope which Meeks infuses into all of his stories as his characters confront their fears of aging, mortality and the sometimes insurmountable challenges of relationships.

In some stories, the characters must battle their own inner demons to make sense of the world and their place within it. In A Shoe Falls, Max must evaluate his marriage to Alice - a woman who clutters the house with her shoes. He wakes from a dream about owing a cab driver $150,000 and thinks:

…if the ride was getting so expensive and monotonous, why hadn’t he asked the cab driver to let him off? Why hadn’t he done more than sit there, bouncing in the back seat pondering his sanity? He was a passive man, goddamn it. -From Months and Seasons, A Shoe Falls, page 72-

Max’s inner journey in this story looks at how one man (who could be any of us) examines his “dreams” in the face of his reality. Will he be able to overcome regret for what he has does not have in order to accept what is?

My favorite story of the collection is Breaking Water - which opens with a supermodel awakening from open heart surgery. Merrill appears to have lost everything of importance in her life - her career as a model, her marriage, and her vision of who she is. She must begin again and turns toward art school as a possible answer.

She also couldn’t draw knees well, or a cat’s mysterious stare, or the hope she had had on her wedding day at the Unitarian Church where the minister’s smile had stretched exactly from pupil to pupil - proportions as perfect as Michelangelo. Merrill, however, could draw losing. It was a mere scratch through a face or a line down the middle of one’s chest. -From Months and Seasons, Breaking Water, page 136-

Merrill’s story is one of falling down and getting back up again; of finding hope in the midst of despair. It touched me.

And this is perhaps the strength of the collection - in showing us the lives of these ordinary characters, Meeks exposes what is human in all of us. Who has never felt life was not living up to expectation? Or looked at the years unraveling and wondered if we had the time to do everything we wanted? Or experienced a loss so big that hope seemed irretrievable? Or found our fears so encompassing we felt paralyzed to overcome them? Meeks explores these ideas with humor and sensitivity, and creates a collection hard to put down.

For those readers who love short stories, Months and Seasons is a must read. Highly recommended.

Meeks’ is also the author of a previous collection - The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea.

At the end of Months and Seasons, Meeks includes an excerpt of a new book he is working on…a novel-in-stories titled The Brightest Moon of the Century. I read this excerpt and was hungry for more. Meeks characterization of the title character, Edward, reminded me of John Irving’s Garp. I have added The Brightest Moon of the Century to my watch list!

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Riding upon the wind’s back in the warmth of an eleven o’clock sun, a part-time photographer makes his way through the streets of Paris to snap, forever in time, the winsome activities of ordinary life.

“In all ways when one is walking about with a camera, one has almost a duty to be attentive, to not lose that abrupt and happy rebound of the sun’s rays off an old stone, or the pigtails-flying run of a small girl going home with a loaf of bread or a bottle of milk.”
- From "Blow-Up"

Taking a break from snapping photographs, Roberto Michel raises a match to light his cigarette when the sight of a mismatched couple grabs his attention - a teenage boy with a woman many years his senior. Michel begins to conjecture as to how this couple came to be – a physical woman with a subdued and nervous boy.

“Now the woman had swung around smoothly, putting the young boy between herself and the wall, I saw them almost in profile, and he was taller, though not much taller, and yet she dominated him, it seemed like she was hovering over him, crushing him just by being there, smiling…”
- From "Blow-Up"

He snaps a photograph to capture this peculiar sight, burning a moment of time into his memory that will torment his thoughts as it lingers within his mind. What is it that this picture reveals?

Blow-Up, by Julio Cortázar, is a beautiful, stream-of-consciousness story that embodies the surrealist ideas of embracing the true flow of thought and evoking confusion through unusual juxtaposition. This story could be framed in a museum for its natural beauty – right next to the melting clock’s of Salvador Dalí’s painting, A Persistence of Memory, for they both illustrate how memories can litter the landscape of one’s mind.

If one is looking for a an easy to read story, I suggest, perhaps, "The Grasshopper and the Bell Cricket," by Yasunari Kawabata, for that story is sparse in text. However, if one enjoys to dive head first into a lake of words, this is the story is for you –the current may push you around but the water feels great. O'CH

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri, 1999
A Collection of Short Stories, 198 pages
Mariner Books/Houghton Mifflin Company

Winner of the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the PEN/Hemingway Award.

Interpreter of Maladies, Lahiri’s first book, is a collection of short stories depicting the lives of Indians or Indian immigrants. Some may immediately wonder how they could relate to the stories or characters. You may not to them individually, but what you will find is that the themes are universal thus eliminating such a concern.

“A Temporary Matter” centers on a couple estranged by the loss of a child:

But nothing was pushing Shukumar. Instead he thought of how he and Shoba had become experts in avoiding each other in their three-bedroom house, spending as much time on separate floors as possible.
“Sexy” about a woman having an affair with a married man and coming to terms with the choices she’s made:
There was no reason to put it on. Apart from the fitting room at Filene’s she had never worn it, and as long as she was with Dev she knew she never would. She knew they would never go to restaurants, where he would reach across a table and kiss her hand. They would meet in her apartment, on Sundays, he in his sweatpants, she in her jeans.
“Mrs. Sen’s” showing the hardships faced emotionally by someone having to adjust to a new life. One in a country where there is little to connect to on any level as there is no immediate family or a community of those with similar backgrounds to lean upon for support, thus the homesickness felt is as much as any one person can bear:
Mrs. Sen took the aerogram from India out of her purse and studied the front and back. She unfolded it and reread it to herself, sighing every now and then. When she had finished she gazed for some time at the swimmers.

“My sister has had a baby girl. By the time I see her, depending if Mr. Sen gets his tenure, she will be three years old. Her own aunt will be a stranger. If we sit side by side on train she will not know my face.”
There are nine stories in total and in each one there was always some aspect that touched me in some way that I could not picture myself, or anyone I know, caught up within those same circumstances and possibly having the same responses. I can say in truth, that I did not understand every nuance in some of the stories, as understanding the culture would have been helpful. But really, it does not detract from the enjoyment I had in reading this book. In fact, it was the first one I completed when participating in the recent Read-A-Thon.

As I stated in an earlier post, this book has got to be one of the better Pulitzer Prize Winners I have read in some time. In addition, I have not read many Short Story collections this year even though I had planned to.

I am glad I decided that this should change. This was a wonderful book and will be a nice addition to my personal library.

For this reason I am giving it a definite ‘must read’ recommendation.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Wendy's Challenge Plan and List

January 1 - December 31, 2008

UPDATE October 22, 2008:

I am happy to report I have completed this challenge! I read 8 individual short stories (2 more than my goal) and 3 collections of short stories. What a fun challenge this turned out to be. Thank you, Kate for hosting!


Could you resist this button? Come on, be honest. You couldn't. And neither could I...that, and I love the art of the short story.Kate at Kate's Book Blog (and A Curious Singularity) has come up with the 2008 Short Story Challenge. And she's made it flexible and individualized...AND she's given it its own blog. So there you go. I'm in.

I've chosen option #5 - the custom option. And here is my plan:

I. Read six (6) individual short stories by authors I have not read before and which I will choose as I go along.
  1. Black Ice, by Cate Kennedy (finished January 21, 2008; rated 3.5/5; read my review)
  2. The Overcoat, by Nikolai Gogol (finished March 1, 2008; rated 4/5; read my review)
  3. Landscape With Flatiron, by Haruki Murakami (finished April 21, 2008; rated 4/5; read my review)
  4. The Kiss, by Anton Chekhov (finished May 14, 2008; rated 5/5; read my review)
  5. Free Radicals, by Alice Munro (finished May 25, 2008; rated 4/5; read my review)
  6. Mr. Bones, by Paul Theroux (finished June 28, 2008; rated 3.5/5; read my review)
  7. Natalie, by Anne Enright (finished July 26, 2008; rated 2.5/5; read my review)
  8. An Ex-Mas Feast, by Uwem Akpan (finished August 24, 2008; rated 4.5/5; read my review)
II. Read a minimum of three (3) collections chosen from these books:
  1. Springtime on Mars, by Susan Woodring (finished June 28, 2008; rated 5/5; read my review)
  2. The View From Castle Rock, by Alice Munro (finished September 26, 2008; rated 4/5; read my review)
  3. Months and Seasons, by Christopher Meeks (finished October 22, 2008; rated 4.5/5; read my review)
  4. Selected Short Stories of William Faulkner, by William Faulkner
  5. The Country of Pointed Firs and Selected Short Fiction, by Sarah Orne Jewett (let it be noted that I have already read The Country of Pointed Firs and won't re-read it, but all the other stories in this collection are up for grabs)
  6. Open Secrets, by Alice Munro
  7. Tooth and Claw, by T.C. Boyle
  8. A Private State, by Charlotte Bacon
  9. Friend of My Youth, by Alice Munro
  10. All Aunt Hager's Children, by Edward P. Jones

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

"The Grasshopper and the Bell Cricket"

The Grasshopper and the Bell Cricket is a short story that begins with an unknown narrator who discovers a cluster of children with colorful lanterns on an insect hunt in the surrounding trees of a university.
“There were about twenty lanterns. Not only were there crimson, pink, indigo, green, purple, and yellow lanterns, but one lantern glowed with five colors at once”.
As he continues to watch the narrator goes in and out of his imagination and reality to complete the scene. At the end the narrator witnesses a special moment among the children they will never know occurred but because he is observing from the outside, he is privileged to experience it.
What I admire most about Kawabata is that he is able to convey such a deep message through two pages of simple words. I would have to agree with Edmund Yeo’s thoughts from the Swifty, Writing blog when he states that Kawabata has a “fine eye for detail: he has an impressionist’s command of light and color paired with a modernist’s appreciation for the strange…” For example, the narrator begins to describe how the lanterns are made it is clear that he is not there and has no idea if that’s how they were made yet he creates this fairytale image of color and joy.
“The bobbing lanterns, the coming together of children on this lonely slope—surely it was a scene from a fairytale?”
It is strange that the narrator is forcing himself to believe he was there, however, at the same time what the narrator imagines is beautiful and believable even to the reader. The message of youth and childhood is present in the story through the images of play and color, and the overall pure tone of Kawabata. Reading this story is similar to looking at a child’s crayon drawing, at first it’s nothing significant but under the scribbles and overlapping colors there is something more. Ralph Waldo Emerson once noted that “Nature always wears the colors of the spirit” and that is something I find true through this tale.


Monday, October 20, 2008



The story that I choose to write about is Canaries because it has some distinct memories or passages that have remained with me from the reading. First of all, the story was written in 1924 by Yasunari Kawabata. Major characters are the author and Madam. Minor characters are the writer’s dead wife and the canaries. The story was taken place at the author’s house. It was a letter that the author sent to his mistress. He said that he could no longer keep the canaries he received from the mistress because his wife was dead. His wife was the only one who took care of those birds. He used to think of the mistress whenever he saw those birds. However, since his wife died, he did not want to keep them. He wanted the memories between him and Madam to die with his wife. I think the writer had felt an internal guilt toward his wife because he was cheating on her. Moreover, the author chose to write this letter because of his guilt. That guilt tormented his heart so that he wanted to kill the canaries and bury them in his wife’s grave. The passage that affected me was “Perhaps it’s odd to give living creatures as a souvenir, but our memories, too, are alive. Someday the canaries will die. And, when the time comes, that the memories between us must die, let them die” I think that after his wife died, the writer finally realized what a real love he used to have with her. Since she died, everything died.


The Fly


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Pa's Darling

As I have already suggested, I was always supposed to be Pa's favorite daughter. He made a good deal of me, particularly before company; he like to show me off --- he was proud of my good looks, of what he called my "pale-faced, raven-haired beauty." But he was like a financial magnate showing off a master painting he has just acquired, inwardly confident that the owner of the picture is superior to both the work and its artist. There was always a distinct vein of sarcasm in his ebullient mirth.

Louis Auchincloss' short story Pa's Darling tells Kate Hemenway's view of her past, "to make a probably vain attempt to get it off my chest." She speaks of the way her father treated life, the arts, his wife, and people in general. She then speaks of her first husband of whom she met through her father and then of her second husband whom she discovers is much like her own father. She draws parallels between these men in her life and compares them to the relationship she saw between her own parents. And following the death of her father, Kate discovers a secret of her parents that she had always suspected. This secret along with her husband's prolonged mourning of the passing of her father leads her to suspect that history is repeating itself.

The world might admire power and money, but it also esteemed the arts. By associating himself with Pa, might he not borrow a few rays of Pa's aura? To Dicky appearance and reality were the same. If he looked as if he had everything, why, then he had everything. It was why he was perfectly happy. I had again been married to my father.

Although the characters were not overly developed, the story was exactly as the author introduced: an assessment of a character's past following the death of her father. Taking an assessment of our past is something we all tend to do when an event changes our course in life. Pa's Darling was an interesting short story that I enjoyed.

"Pa's Darling" by Louis Auchincloss (from The Yale Review) from The Best American Short Stories 2007 edited by Stephen King with Heidi Pitlor

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Robertson Davies' High Spirits

Toronto : Penguin, c1982.

Now, here's a short story collection which does challenge ghost story tradition a bit. It's an 18 story collection, each written by Robertson Davies to be read yearly at his college's Gaudy Nights**. He began this habit in 1963 as Master of Massey College (Toronto) and maintained it for the 18 years he was there. The progression shows that each story was written according to yearly occurrences and social conditions.

In his intro he states:

Ghost stories tend to be very serious affairs. Who has ever heard of a ghost cracking a joke? I wanted my ghosts to be light-hearted, if not in themselves, at least as they appeared to my hearers. No new style would suit a ghost story, so it would be necessary to parody the usual style. And the parody would have to be affectionate, for cruel parody is distasteful in itself, and utterly outside the spirit of a party.
And the stories are mostly light and amusing, I would imagine especially so for those in the audiences for which they were written. If in that audience I am sure we would share in the references to mutual acquaintances, the habits of university life and the local settings within Massey College and Toronto. However, many of the stories still hold up for those of us reading them now, separate from all that. The collection is a bit uneven, however; a few are no longer successful, particularly to my mind the offering entitled The Ugly Spectre of Sexism. It was amazingly old-fashioned, sounding more 1920's than 70's. I guess we really do take for granted the attitude shift since the 70's; at least this is a reminder about that kind of thing.

I found that the first three stories were my favourites, lightly ironic about college life and featuring students, researchers and libraries. In the third story, The Great Queen is Amused, the narrator comes across a female researcher (clearly based on someone known to the audience) who has used an old book of Alistair Crowley's to call up the shade of an early Canadian writer in the dusty basement stacks of the college library, in order to clarify some research points with her. It has all gone horribly wrong:

"I suppose you called up a single spirit, and have received a wholesale delivery; Crowley is a most untrustworthy guide."

"But who are they?" said she.

"It is only too clear that they are the ghosts of the Canadian writers whose books are here," said I.

"Then why are they so noisy?" she asked. Every time I think of it, I realize what a wealth of national feeling was compressed into that one enquiry.

"They are clamouring to be reborn,"I explained... "Look, you see those who are floating in that strange, curled-up posture; they have placed themselves in the foetal position, so that, when a child is conceived, they are ready at once to take possession of it in the womb, and come to earth again."

"Whatever for?" said she.

"Perhaps they hope that this time they might be born American authors," said I.

This is an example of the light style he uses, and for the most part it is quite funny. Canadians will find certain jokes still relevant, but you don't have to be Canadian to enjoy this. Some of the stories are still quite entertaining, some are just ok. Still, overall it's a good set of academic-themed, humorous ghost stories, and if you already like Davies you will want to read it.

** An example of Davies existing in another time than we live in now, "Gaudy" derives from the Latin gaudium and Old French gaudie, meaning "merry-making" or "enjoyment". A college gaudy is a dinner; primarily this was an Oxford tradition. Also, when Davies began as first Master of Massey College, it was a male-only college, not admitting women until 1974.
cross-posted at The Indextrious Reader

Friday, October 17, 2008

An Aftermath of Hope and Regret

“Aftermath”, a short story written by Mary Yukari Waters available in the Laws of Evening, is one of the those rare short stories that can present a timeless theme of change and the consequences that come with it.  Just as the country of Japan is struggling with its own national identity after WWII, a mother, Makiko, and her son, Toshi, are struggling with their own identities and how to proceed with their lives.  While Makiko is determined to stay true to the ancient Japanese culture which her generation was raised in, Yoshi is beginning to embrace an American culture that Makiko believes not only destroyed her country but killed her husband, Yoshitsune.  The idea of choosing between two completely different cultures is a timeless theme and “Aftermath” could be interpreted today and even fifty years in the future.  However, Mary Yukari Waters is very careful with the tone her story, though Aftermath deals with the destruction of Japan there is hope that from the ruins something greater could grow.  Similar to the song Let It Be by the Beatles, both Let It Be and “Aftermath” have a similar tone of sadness and regret, but an even greater tone of hope.  In Let It Be, at first, Paul McCartney is sad that he is reminded of his mother’s tragic death, but at the end of the song, he is rejoicing that his mother has come back to him, “And when the night is cloudy/There is still a light that shines on me/Shine until tomorrow/Let it be/There will be an answer/Let it be.”  Compared to “Aftermath”, “Tonight there is a full moon.  Earlier, at dusk, it was opaque and insubstantial.  Now through shifting moisture in the air, it glows bright and strong, awash with light.”  However, perhaps Yukari Waters was making a statement by putting this story in the past Japan rather than many present third world countries that hope is fading for those who are now faced with this difficult choice of cultures.  CR

An Aftermath of Hope and Regret

Julio Cortaz’s “Blow-up” is the story of one man’s perception. The Story begins with the character talking in the first person and later switches over to himself talking in the third person. At times the story is confusing not knowing what is real and overall if you can trust what the narrator is telling the reader. As the story continues Michel (main character) observes a boy and a woman interacting with each other. He immediately jumps to conclusions without ever actually ever hearing their conversation but telling the viewer what they are talking about and how they ended up at this point. “The boy had come on to the tip of island, seen the woman and thought her marvelous. The woman was there waiting for that because she was there waiting for that.” Michel himself goes into romantic fantasies about the characters as well. “Now the woman had swung around smoothly, putting the young boy between herself and the wall.” Rereading the article I feel as though this romantic aspect of the story is made up by the narrators own mind, never really happening because it all seems so absurd. Later in the story Michel gets a picture of the two and blows it up on his wall where he constantly stares at it and asses the story over and over in his head. He slowly becomes more and more obsessed as he evaluates the situation between these two strange “lovers”.
Chekhov’s “The Kiss” reminds me of some aspects in this story. Riabovich, who is the main character in this story, could be compared to Michel. Both of these characters become overwhelmed with a situation that most people wouldn’t think twice about after it had happened. Both characters are no better off in the end and both characters let their problems consume their lives.
The story also reminded me of Pablo Picasso’s Figures on a Beach. This is because I find this story to not be what it seems just as are many of Picasso’s paintings. In figures on the Beach it is hard to decipher the image because of how jumbled the two figures are.

The Fly

“The Fly,” written by Katherine Mansfield, is a short story about a troubled man called “the boss.” We are first introduced to Mr. Woodifield and his familial struggles but eventually, the story takes an unpredictable turn in that we realize the plot focuses around the boss. Woodifield remains not as a minor nor a major character, but remains as a key element of the plot that pushes to the point of the story: the boss’s grief over his son and how he chooses to express his grief. Although Woodifield is already struggling with his own family problems, we find out that his struggle is only an introduction to a far more serious and dramatic situation involving the boss and his son. The story quickly becomes dark when the boss suddenly notices a fly trying to save itself from being drowned in pen ink. He is immediately intrigued by the fly’s determination and bravery but is then somehow engulfed in a sadistic state of violence and murder, ultimately causing the fly to fall into an unfortunate predicament. Once he wakes from his sadistic state, it is as if nothing had happened and he returns to his usual business during the day.

The sadistic characteristics hidden underneath the boss’s exterior reminded me of Vincent Van Gogh’s troubled mind. Van Gogh’s struggle against madness is similar to the boss’s struggle against grief and trauma over his son. Van Gogh’s struggle against madness can be seen through his use of dark colors in his artwork such as “Starry Night” and, while the boss’s struggle against his feelings is expressed through the fly’s doomed predicament.

“The Fly” is similar to Mary Yukari Waters’s “The Aftermath.” Both stories exhibit an adult figure exhibiting negative feelings over the well-being of his or her son. However, the stories are different in the way that the boss in “The Fly” is distraught over his son’s death, while the mother, Makiko, in “The Aftermath” is not distraught but anxious and worrisome over the American influence over her son.


Daddy Wolf Blog

You aren’t the first person who is curious about “Daddy Wolf” and chose to read this blog. The writer, James Purdy, is a master of human emotion and expression. In this story, he chooses a resident of New York City named Benny as the central character. This Benny is quite the talker and throughout the recap his life in the big city, the reader learns more and more about what his true feelings are. At first, Benny complains so much about the holes in his linoleum that are “so goddam big now – you can go in there and take a look” that at first, you almost miss the point of the story completely when it is first mentioned.

This leads me to say that if this story were a color, it would be dark grey. To explain this conclusion, let’s start with the color black. With our thorough knowledge of the color spectrum, we know that black is a combination of every other color, however, no light reflects off of it so our eyes just register the lack of color thereof. Benny has many emotions and feelings inside, but the reader does not pick up on them at first without further insight into Benny’s character – hence the dark grey comparison. Therefore, when more is learned about Benny throughout “Daddy Wolf”, the reader can put the pieces together come away from the story with a thorough knowledge of his character.

Besides color, “Daddy Wolf” can be compared to the short story “Aftermath” by Mary Yukari Waters. Nothing is ever told in a straight-forward manner in either story. For example, when the mother is the only one left sitting in the stands at her son’s baseball game in “Aftermath”, the writer does not scream out that she does not have a husband to cook dinner for; she simply alludes to the fact.

I recommend “Daddy Wolf” to anyone and everyone with a need to read and a desire to delve into something that is not what it first seems. And if you thought I was going to tell you what is beneath the story’s surface in my blog, think again. ~M.M.

We have all heard the expression “less is more” and in the story of Canaries by Ysaunari Kawabata from the book, “Palm-of-the-Hand Stories”, he does just this. In forty-two lines he tells the sad story of a man writing a final goodbye letter to his lover. She had purchased a set of canaries for him which his late wife had taken care of until she died. I saw that there was not much depth to the characters but I found that what I thought was a flaw turned out to give the story a venire; a sense of mystery. Questions are brought up like, why was there an affair in the first place? Did the wife die of a broken heart? Why did the man address his lover as “Madam” instead of her name? The list is endless. I do not know if this was intentional of Kawabata but that is where the story is given depth. One of the major ideas in the story is the fact that the man writes “the shopkeeper simply caught a male and female at random and put them in a cage.” suggesting that their relationship had become nothing more than two strangers caged together. This is yet another unanswered idea that Kawabata leaves the reader to draw their own conclusions.
This is extremely different from the story Blow-Up by Julio Cortazar. From the very beginning, he over indulges the reader with endless thoughts about his characters and never misses a chance to “fill in the blanks”. It is a story about a man who thinks he took a picture of a young boy, in the park, about to have sex for the first time with a hooker. He becomes so captivated by the photo that he makes an enlargement (a blow-up). He keeps expanding it until he notices a man in the background of the photo and comes to realize his original thought was completely misled. This was a story that took awhile to get going yet Cortazar is able to paint a beautiful picture of the park where the photographer was sitting. His over indulging of language was able to fully enrich the story but at the same time it did not leave any sense of mystery for the reader unlike Kawabata.
Both these stories are great opposites from each other. One is able to let the reader pave their own path about the story where as the other a path has already been laid with a few twists and turns in the road. I wish that these would be packaged in a set together due to their complete opposite formats. They remind me of the boxed set movie(s) “Grindhouse” - two movies, opposite cinematography. The first movie is Death Proof directed by Quentin Terintino where the main focus is the character relationships. There is very little action, which is made up by unique dialogues giving a simplicity to the movie. Contrary to this is the movie “Planet Terror” directed by Robert Rodriguez. There is nothing left out. Each scene is a feast for the eyes while not saying very much for the characters. There is obviously character development but that is not one of the main aspects to the film, the same as “Blow-Up”. There is a plot to follow which ultimately changes, yet there is not much depth to the characters. So let’s hope that Kawabata and Cortazar will release their stories together. Maybe they could call it Caged Thought.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Short Story Parabolic Mirrors

Two portrayals of men whose lives have been devastated by tragedy- one whose son has fallen in war, one who relives losing his innocence, are found within The Fly and Blow-up. Katherine Mansfield’s The Fly narrows the reader’s field of vision to the observation of small details. The boss in the story is still distraught, regardless of the six years passed since his son’s death. It’s the petty action, the torturing of the fly, that shows what turmoil the boss still experiences.
He plunged his pen back into the ink, leaned his thick wrist on the blotting paper, and as the fly tried its wings, down came a great heavy blot.
The scale of this torture, a fly, a struggle in a drop of ink, are symbolic of the magnitude of the bosses defeat. He is rendered small, so much so that even his well of anger has been relinquished to an inkpot. This portrayal of a deep wound through a tiny ubiquitous object is reminiscent of Virginia Woolf’s treatment of blades of grass on the lawn at ‘Oxbridge’ in her essay A Room of One’s Own. Both authors are able to transform innate objects into receptacles of profound emotion, creating literary worry dolls.
Woolf uses internal dialogue to draw a shockingly honest picture of a broken psyche in much the same way that Julio Cortazar does in Blow-up. The parabolic mirror image of the character’s own view of himself is confused, broken by time, doubles back on itself, even to the extent that on seven occasions he refers to himself in the third person. Unlike in Mansfield the reader steps inside the picture with Blow-Up, rather than watching through a window.
… If I am I or what actually occurred or what I’m seeing (clouds, and once in a while a pigeon) or if, simply, I’m telling a truth which is only my truth…
The characters thoughts become the readers, as that is all she is given. Yet the view is still constrained, in this case by the characters own emotional limitations.
The girls were in Belgium last week having a look at poor Reggie’s grave, and they happened to come across your boys.
The readers view of the boss in Mansfield’s work is framed in finite space, the emotional trigger of one twenty-two word sentence in one tiny moment of time brings forth six years worth of the bosses misery.
Much like Hobbes’ atomist theory, all events can be broken into tiny particles that make up our experiences as humans. Both authors revealed to us that life is lived in what is small; a blade of grass, a single snapshot, a drop of ink, or a sentence uttered by a close friend. Regardless of the scope of the view, life is in the details. -MM

The Grasshopper and the Bell Cricket

In this short story, “The Grasshopper and the Bell Cricket” written by Yasunari Kawabata found in the Palm of the Hand Stories by Lane Dunlop and J. Martin Holman, is told through the eyes of a narrator.  Taking place on the slopes of Japan, the narrator watches as children engage on an insect chase at the base of an embankment.  Each child with a home made lantern in hand, unique with different colored paper stretched over the sides, and old-fashioned patterns so that from distance you just see a “bobbing cluster of beautiful varicolored lanterns.” Kawabatta goes on about this insect chase as an outsider looking in on these children in a simple yet captivating way that pulls you in yourself.  She makes a seemingly insignificant moment like the exchanging on an insect and the way light happens to hit something seem so important. In the end, when the story turns to the thoughts of wisdom of the narrator you learn that this story is not just about a childish insect chase, but how it is a metaphor for something much greater in life. As the narrator seems to speak from experience imparting wisdom we learn about love and hope.  That  “even is you have the wit to look by yourself in a bush away from the other children, there are not many bell crickets in the world.” And grasshoppers may seem like bell crickets and bell crickets may seem like grasshoppers. However, this story is also about hope, which “should the day come, when it seems to you that the world is full of grasshoppers.” Remember the moments when your beautiful lantern on a girl’s chest writes your name. Much like Chekhov’s, “The Kiss” it is a short story about a moment so ordinary yet can change you forever. And like Bob Marley’s famous Redemption song about “emancipating yourself form mental slavery”, sung with just his voice and an acoustic guitar, this story is simple but you will catch you off guard with a  deeper meaning. BS

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Glimpses at the Complexity of Life and the Human Condition

Yasunari Kawabata’s short story Canaries is a forbidden letter to a past lover that babbles and eddies with the narrator’s awkwardness and emotions. The subtext of the letter successfully tackles the complexity of human relationships. Superficially the narrator laments his recently deceased wife and is reminiscent of his long lost lover, Madam. The story is grounded in the relatively trivial fate of a pair of birds he received as a gift from Madam, who instructs him to: “Please remember me with these birds. Perhaps it’s odd to give living creatures as a souvenir, but our memories, too are alive.” As the birds inevitably near the end of their life, he desperately tries to create something out of the memories they are preserving. He habitually returns to clarification phrases such as “I’ll put it plainly” and “I’ll say it again”. When the letter drifts into those serious emotional territories, the narrator returns to the trivial topic of the birds. The letter reads more like a schizophrenic self exploration then genuine correspondence.
James Purdy’s Daddy Wolf (1923) also has a narrator who is dependendent on communication to cope with personal hardships. At times it is unclear which of the narrator’s many strangers is absorbing his burden by putting up with listening. Is it a stranger on the phone, the operator, the stranger in the hall, or myself as the reader of the story? The narrator of this story has taken this situation to a ludicrous degree. “It’s funny talking to you like this, Mister, and as I told the lady I am waiting to get reconnected with on the phone, if I didn’t know any better I would think either one of you was Daddy Wolf on the Trouble Phone”. The man in Kawabata’s story, who seems more in touch with reality is merely trying to cope with his emotions through the postal system, while the narrator in Daddy Wolf is not satisfied with his “Trouble Phone” as an outlet, and franticly unloads his baggage on passersbys and strangers.
The very concept of a relationship that is complex in presentation, and obscured by secrecy, dances at the edge of understanding the human predicament. Like these short stories, it is this polar duality that makes Bob Dylan’s “As I Went Out One Morning” (1967) so magical while remaining so concise. In only 140 words, Dylan paints a picture of the disturbingly unhealthy relationship between “the fairest damsel that ever did walk in chains” and Tom Paine. It is his mastery over the rhetoric of human relationships that allows the complexity of the situation to be subtle and technically unwritten.



A Sunny Place

When one thinks of sunny places they would normally categorize this with happier thoughts. In Kawabata’s “A Sunny Place”, the happiness of the narrator just isn’t as obvious as a sunny place. Kawabata uses significant narrative skills to express all of the trials and tribulations that the narrator has gone through and how he has developed because of all of this.

Kawabata’s short story begins with the narrator acknowledging his bad habit of staring as he continues to stare at a girl that he just met. Obviously embarrassed by his constant staring, he speaks about his annoying habit, saying “I felt an intense self-hatred every time I realized I was doing it. Maybe this habit came from having spent all my time reading others’ faces once I had lost my parents and my home when I was a child and gone to live with others. Perhaps that is why I have turned out this way.”

As the story progresses, the narrator gains a sudden realization that his bad habit of staring at people’s faces actually came from a different and more significant event. Through spending plenty of time with his blind grandfather, the narrator’s concern for him started to grow as he realized that he could only face one direction. Thus the staring began. Once he grasps all of this, the narrator’s sense of security begins to rise once again as he joyfully realizes that his strange habit of staring at people’s faces did not originate from “base motives”.

In comparison to Julio Cortazar’s “Blow-Up”, I think that this story also expresses realization and recognition just as much as “A Sunny Place” does. The only difference between the two stories is that “Blow-Up” revolves around the realization of a specific event while “A Sunny Place” revolves around the realization of one’s personality. In “Blow-Up”, the protagonist character realizes that things are not as they might seem on the outside. He believes that he is taking pictures of a regular couple when really; there is something deeper and more intense that is going on under the surface.

To a certain extent, “A Sunny Place” is just like escargot. Most people believe that escargot is too strange to eat and they probably wouldn’t even bother trying it. But if you look past it’s bizarreness, you might just have the sudden realization that it isn’t what it seems, just like the narrator’s unfortunate habit of staring.


"The Fly"

Katherine Mansfield’s “The Fly” demonstrates the importance of being able to pick yourself up after a tragedy. While visiting a friend named the boss, Mr. Woodifield mentions his friend’s late son. The boss immediately reverts to a place where he must cry and mourn. He laments his loss, “‘My son!’ groaned the boss. But no tears came yet. In the past, in the first few months, and even years after the boy’s death, he had only to say those words to be overcome by such grief...” The fact that he cannot cry anymore is his heart telling him to move on and remember the happy days, but he is determined to fight it.
When the boss saves a drowning fly, and subsequently endangers it, he is amazed at the fly’s ability to save itself. This reflects the boss’ inability to save himself. Since his son’s death, the boss has not been able to get to a peaceful place. The fly’s persistence also reveals how the boss may wish that his son could have saved himself, if he had only demonstrated enough perseverance.
The boss’s entrapment in the past is also a commentary on a flaw of humans. Like many people, the boss is too focused on the past to be able to finish his life happily. In contrast to his human foe, the fly does not dwell on each new drop of ink that hits, it continues to wipe its wings until it is impossible to continue.
I enjoyed reading “The Fly,” because I was surprised by the actions the main character took, and how he could not follow the fly’s example and press forward. Jane Eyre, reminds me of this story because Rochester endures so many hardships and is at the same lost man by the end. He needs someone to pull him up, which everyone needs at some point. The boss could definitely use some assistance.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Blowing Up

I recently read the short story “Blow-up” by Julio Cortazar. At least I think I did. I think I read it several times. After reading it several times, I realized what was really going on. 

So I read it again--for the first time, really.

This vignette seems really dreamlike, with the narrators intense imagery from the littlest details, “...there's wind in Paris, and even less seldom a wind like this that swirled round corners and rose up to whip at old wooden venetian blinds behind which astonished ladies commented variously on how unreliable the weather has been these last three years” so that only in this chaotic environment Cortazar could create a new story to arise within the narrator’s mind. 

The narrator’s total obsession over the photograph is comparable to a soldier’s obsession over a faceless woman in Anton Chekov’s “The Kiss” in that each character is obsession over something that they had no control over to begin with, only to find themselves in an orbit of pain and confusion.

This story is reminiscent of the 1979 film The Conversation, where an unknowing bystander is suddenly absorbed into a conflict that eventually destroys his life. Each is interesting--if not frustrating--because only in the end do we realize the damage of their decision to interfere in others’ business.

Totally unique to “Blow-up” is the perspective of the narrator, or what he believes his perspective is. We can never really know what or where the narrator is at the beginning and at the ending of the vignette, all the audience gets is the picture of a blue sky with the occasional pigeon flying past. Such utter loss of reality is the element that makes this story worthy of reading, because one can never really know what happened to the narrator and what photograph was really caught that day. 


Andrew Carter's Canaries Blog

Kawabata’s Canaries is a story of great heartbreak and sadness.  At the start of the story, we are immediately introduced to a depressed man who has lost his wife and is dealing with committing infidelity. The story is in letterform, and is being written to the narrator’s mistress. He is explaining to the woman that he is going to give up the canaries that she gave him when they were together. The canaries were originally intended as a love memento, but now, as the birds are in their frail last stage of life, they only remind the narrator of who was once their caretaker: his wife. This makes the narrator start to wonder if it was in fact his wife who brought him memories of his mistress, because she kept the birds alive and took care of them. The conflict the narrator deals with is an interesting inner turmoil, and an ironic one at that; you’d think that if the man cheated on his wife, he wouldn’t want to think about her in the first place, and not only does he do so, but the canaries which are supposed to remind him of his “madam” are reminding him of his wife. Fancy that. It’s also plausible to wonder what the man is really upset about, losing his wife or having the affair? A morose, thought-provoking and even somewhat ominous tale, Canaries evokes, ever so slightly, an aspect of Purdy’s Daddy Wolf. The aspect that both narrator’s have lost their wives and are broken up about it creates a similarity between the two stories. They both deal with a love lost, but the way each main character deals with their emotions is what differs the two. If Canaries were a song, however, it would have to be “Fix You” by Coldplay; the lyrics speak for themselves: “When you lose something you can’t replace; When you were too in love to let it go” and the song sounds like that for the majority of it’s 5 minute running time. AC

"The Fly"

“The Fly,” by Katherine Mansfield and found in The Collected Stories of Katherine Mansfield, can be figuratively compared to jalapeno-spicy salsa.  The sorrow of the story can quickly overcome a reader to the point that it brings him or her to tears the way some salsas can do the same.  If you put yourself in the main character’s situation, you can easily see how he becomes numb to the world like taste buds become numb after eating spicy salsa; the numbness is so powerful that you can’t even remember how the rest of your food tasted.  In a similar way, the boss’ painful memories of his deceased son are so overwhelming that at the end of the story, “for the life of him he could not remember” that he was just lamenting over his boy.  Is Mansfield incorporating Freud’s relatively new concept of repression in her story?! They were alive during the same time period, and the fact that The Fly gives us a glimpse into the psychology of someone undergoing the grieving process makes me highly suspect! 


Initially, the complexity and underlying mood of The Fly are very subtle, but as you continue to read, the deep confusion and sadness of the main character suddenly spills out at you.  Readers are startled by the boss’ interaction with the fly because they have just been told about his depressing past.  “Time . . . could make no difference.  Other men perhaps might recover, might live their loss down, but not he.  How was it possible?”  To say the least, when the boss leaves the fly as the painter Joan Miro left his big, white canvases, the reader is “absolutely cowed, stunned.”


The abrupt changes in storyline and mood are as striking as the storyline and mood changes of Julio Cortazar’s Blow-Up.  In fact, both of these stories are very much like Quentin Tarantino movies.  Each includes a curious action scene that can only be vaguely explained by the numerous flashbacks and/or flash-forwards of the story.  As readers go from beginning to end, they are forced to reinvent their thoughts and come up with a new answer as to what the plot is about on more than one occasion.  Unfortunately in the end, readers are not left with a definitive answer; they are just left guessing as to the correctness of their conclusions.  In addition, both The Fly and Blow-up delve deep into the thought processes of the main characters, the boss and Michel, respectively, as they try to deal with their emotions and rationalize their experiences.  Although these characters deal with their emotions and experiences in completely different ways, it is undeniable that both characters will be haunted by their memories again and again.    CH

Everything gets better with time.
This is the statement that everyone tells themselves after something terrible happens in their life. But is this actually a true statement, or simply another one of those that is only said to make individuals feel better during a time of grieving?
The boss in Katherine Mansfield’s “The Fly” is one example of how these statements are contradicted. Six years after his son’s death, he still has not accepted that his only son was killed in war. The boss occupies himself with different aspects of his office, anything he can find to keep his mind from thinking about the devastating truth instead of accepting it. He points out to Mr. Woodifield each week, he has “new carpet…new furniture...and electric heating” in his office.
Acceptance is one necessity to moving on that the boss does not have. He does not realize, nor does he want to realize, the truth regarding his son’s death. When Mr. Woodifield mentions that his wife and daughter saw the son’s grave, the boss’s mind set completely changes. The diction went from “solid satisfaction” and “lovingly” to “firm, heavy steps” and “plumped…terrible shock” afterwards. Also, the boss becomes almost demented when he continues to dip the fly back into the ink to watch it suffer and struggle to survive, and “felt admiration” towards the fly’s courage to stand and clean its ink-soaked body. If only the boss would realize that he too needs to have that same courage to pick himself up and live again. Just before the fly is dipped into the ink bottle for the last time, it is noted that it looks “timid and weak”. I think the boss notices this trait in the fly because it is exactly what he does not want to be seen in him - a sign of weakness. KB
“Daddy Wolf” by James Purdy is a disturbing key-hole glimpse into the life of a pressured New York citizen in a struggle for survival. Benny, the main character, explains the reason for his prolonged use of the telephone booth by going on a rant about his problems: his wife and child leaving him, his desolate status, the disgusting state of his apartment and the rat infestation problem that he has but cannot convince his landlord to care about. Is his desperate tone a reflection on his life or a metaphorical comment on society from the author?
The narration style of the main character is reminiscent of “Aftermath” by Mary Yukari Waters, a short story about a widow in post-war Japan trying to come to terms with loss of her husband as she fights the enculturation of America while raising their son alone. Both stories revolve around the struggle of endurance, and acceptance. Both Benny and Makiko have lost their spouses and are now feeling entirely alone with an important task upon their shoulders.
The speaking style of Benny is that of an uneducated individual with bad grammar and form which is in contrast to Maiko’s language, which is fluid and graceful, but both characters express their sorrow efficiently. Benny’s speech, while meant to be noticed, doesn’t get in the way of the dialogue. “Daddy Wolf” evoked feelings of repulsion, intrigue and sympathy, much like the movie Citizen Kane, the groundbreaking movie directed by Orson Welles. “Daddy Wolf”, Citizen Kane, and “Aftermath” all weave their stories through memories or glimpses into the past.
The most unsettling part of “Daddy Wolf” was Daddy Wolf, a mysterious man who listens to women’s problems on the phone and attempts to give advice: “…when things got so rough, my wife did call Daddy Wolf…the number is CRack 8-7869…and only ladies can call”. The image that came to mind is of a Little Red Riding Hood type character, a stereotypical fairytale wolf, sitting behind a big mahogany desk, with snarling yellow teeth just waiting for helpless women to call so he can find his next victim. And even though Benny admitted to the fact that Daddy Wolf helped his wife by convincing her to stay faithful to her husband and not use her body to earn money, something still feels instinctually wrong about the situation. This I believe, was the intent of the author, to make the reader feel grimy and concerned simultaneously, both elements which were captured perfectly in this story.



by Leo Tolstoy

In "God See The Truth But Waits", a man is imprisoned after he is wrongfully accused of murder. This is a emotional story of acceptance and forgiveness -- acceptance of the failings of yourself and others and the strength to forgive even when understanding is beyond your grasp. All I could think about when I finished this story was something my late Aunt Cathy used to often say. "God always answers your prayers. It's just that sometimes the answer is 'no'."

Read "God Sees The Truth But Waits" here.

This review is also posted at Books 'n Border Collies

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Dates from Hell - Various

A collection of 4 short stories (novella's really as they are all just over 100 pages long) by some of today's most popular paranormal romance and urban fasntasy authors.

Undead in the Garden of Good and Evil - Kim Harrison
This story started off quite confusing as it mixed alive and undead vampires with a confusing mythology that wasn't very well explained. It became a sexy murder mystery tale centred around alive vampire Ivy Tamnwood. To get ahead it looks like she will have to whore herself to her undead vampire boss Art by lettinghim suck her blood. The murder comes in as they are working in the police force and theirpower games get all mixed in. Pretty average, I hope her series is better...

The Claire Switch Project - Lynsay Sands
A fun and sexy tale about scientist Claire who gets hit with a destabiliser ray giving her the power to shapeshift. She uses photos to emulate the shape, clothes and looks of other men and women. It gets more complicated when she finally gets a first date to their high school reunion with long standing crush Karl, but promises his twin sister she will shift into a famous movie star and be her date too! A quick and fun read.

Chaotic - Kelley Armstrong
Half-demon Hope has inherited her father's love of chaos. She works as a journalist covering paranormal stories as well as working as an Agent for the Interracial Council on the side. At least that is what Tristin Robard has told her. Everything falls apart when she meets sexy werewolf Karl Marsten who brings together chaos, desire and the truth in an explosive adventure at a museum gala dinner.

Dead Man Dating - Lori Handeland
Kit goes on a date with a guy she has met over the internet. Things go very wekk until they stop to have sex in an alley, which is very unlike her as she is a virgin waiting until she is married or meets her true love. A strange man calling himself Chavez turns up and shoots her date who leaves no blood or body behind. He claimes to be a rogue demon hunter and here Kit's adventures really begin...

I really liked the Kelley Armstrong story and I am looking forward to reading Personal Demon which has more on Hope. The tales by Lori Handeland and Lynsay Sands were also a lot of fun. The only disappointment was Kim Harrison, but I am planning on reading more by her and not judging her only on this short tale.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Stories by O. Henry

O. Henry (real name William Sydney Porter) in ...Image via Wikipedia
I found O. Henry's stories to be refreshingly delightful, poignant, and easy to read. While I didn't find O. Henry's actual writing beautiful in comparison to others, in the end, though, I think everyone should read some of O. Henry's stories: they are enjoyable and worthwhile.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Snow - Tove Jansson

Tove Jansson is well known as an extraordinary woman, and writer of children’s stories. Most famous for her stories of the Moomins, Jansson reached more recent acclaim after her death, with the publication of two collections of short stories, The Summer Book and The Winter Book. I remember loving the Moomin stories as a child, and wanted to select one of Jansson’s short stories for this challenge. I selected Snow as I was drawn to the simple title, I knew nothing of the content of any of these stories.

Snow appears to be a simple story. A child and her mother have moved to a strange old house, which is permeated with the memory of the previous family. The mother is relaxed and settled there, finding peace from the outside world. The child however, finds no comfort, becoming obsessed with the falling snow outside, and the prospect of being buried forever in a terrifying snow drift. I said appears to be a simple story. Snow is really about the unfamiliar, about resisting change and the unknown, but about finding hope in family, in companionship. Ali Smith, who selected this collection, described A Winter Book as "Beautifully crafted and deceptively simple-seeming, these stories are pieces of scattered light."

Jansson's writing itself is beautiful. Much of her work is semi-autobiographical, and this is understandable when reading her descriptions of the empty rooms, of the sounds and light, and about a child's reaction to the unknown, the silence, the resignation. You can feel the child's loneliness and confusion, being removed from her own life and deposited in a large, empty, old house.

"If you stood in the furthest room, you could see through all the other rooms and it made you feel sad; it was like a train ready to leave with its lights shining over the platform. The last room was dark like the inside of a tunnel except for a faint glow in the gold frames and the mirror which was hung too high on the wall. All the lamps were soft and misty and made a very tiny circle of light. And when you ran you made no noise."

Since reading Snow, I have read more about Tove Jansson, a fascinating woman of nature, who lived her life in the towns and islands of Finland, living well into old age, and her work is permeated with her life experiences and love of the natural world around her. Reviews of other stories in A Winter Book are heaped with praise, and thus I will certainly be reading the rest of this and other collections. I will however be waiting for the appropriate season for the rest of this wintry collection, as I think the glorious sun beaming down on me while reading about Snow did hamper my enjoyment just a little! Definitely one for being curled up in front of the fire, with snow falling outside.

A Perfect Day for Bananafish - J.D. Salinger

The first title read for my Short Story Reading Challenge and I may have placed the bar a little high! A Perfect Day for Bananafish was first published in the New Yorker, in 1948, in the aftermath of a World War and at the dawn of American consumerism. It was later published as the first in Salinger's Nine Stories. Bananafish follows a young couple, Seymour Glass and his wife Muriel, on a holiday in Florida.

The first half of the story introduces us to Muriel in her hotel room, making a telephone call to her mother, a conversation that intermittently switches between the topics of Seymour’s emotional instability and fashion. Their discussion alludes to a car accident caused by Seymour’s fragility and distraction, and Muriel’s mother’s fears for her daughter’s safety. The story then takes us to a young girl, Sybil, left to play alone on the beach by her mother. Sybil finds a perfectly cheerful Seymour, who takes her for a swim, telling her the story of the bananafish.

On publication, this short story was highly acclaimed, as an important topic for discussion in the years after the war, dealing with the shell-shocked young men, very like Seymour, who survived, but were forever changed by their experiences.

The reader is not invited too close. Seymour and Muriel are referred to as the young man, or the girl, their names only being spoken by other characters, the telephone operator and Muriel’s mother. This combined with it being a short story allows the reader to keep a distance, although this certainly did not dampen my feelings at the dramatic ending. Muriel’s character appears somewhat cold, and it would be easy for the reader to lay some blame on her for Seymour’s current state.

But what Salinger shows here is that depression cannot always be readily visible, one can be cheerful and go about your day regardless of inner turmoil. That is not to say there are no signs, Muriel’s mother alludes to some of the events where Seymour has lost control. But Muriel seems oblivious to her husband’s struggle, and it is difficult to say whether this is intentional or genuine ignorance. Sybil’s mother too is somewhat detached, leaving her daughter to play alone on the beach, while she returns to the hotel bar for a cocktail. Seymour's encounter with Sybil is endearing and playful, as if he were searching for a way to return to to the ease and simplicity of childhood himself, lost in a moment where there are no responsibilities, no consequences. It is entertaining Sybil and the tale of the bananafish that lead to this “Perfect Day” for Seymour.

I found this story beautifully meaningful, most especially because so many soldiers have returned from war as changed men, haunted by what they have seen and experienced. In telling a simple tale of one poignant day in the life of a married couple, Salinger has conveyed all the sadness and post-war confusion apparent in Seymour’s life. The bananafish is a welcome respite, a moment of amusment and childish fantasy, about which I could have read a entire story! Highly recommended, this short story will stay with you.

Stories by Ernest Hemingway

Author Ernest Hemingway in 1939.  During World...Image via Wikipedia

Hemingway's stories are poetry: that is my first and lasting impression of Ernest Hemingway's short stories. In his short stories, Hemingway treats words as sparsely as do poets.

I don't usually understand or enjoy poetry because it feels so much must be inferred or interpreted. While reading Ernest Hemingway's stories, I likewise felt the need to infer and interpret beyond my comfort zone: I didn't "get" them and I certainly didn't enjoy reading the few stories I read. While I've only read a dozen of Ernest Hemingway's short stories, I'm finished.

That, however, doesn't mean you should avoid Hemingway's stories: they may resonate with you, and you may love his writing style. He does a magnificent job of capturing a scene through dialog. Hemingway is worth reading.