The short story is literature’s spyglass focused humans in all their glory and pettiness. Think of every human trait: generosity, devotion, generosity, charity, love, patience, mercy, jealousy, envy, greed, antipathy, selfishness, apathy – they’re all there, magnified and showcased in often unforgettable tableaus. It’s interesting how often random encounters in real life will suddenly start a familiar-to-me itching in my brain as I start to dig though volumes of memories of stories read and catalogued and never to be discarded.
For example, yesterday I took a short gander over to an area of Le Interwebz largely unfrequented by me – the Christo-Mano-Sphere (must have been feeling a tad masochistic – can’t find any other explanation). Anyhoo, I landed (for S&Gs) at one particularly self-righteous and fabulously pompous site which had up a series of “situations” which the Devout-Christo-Man might reasonably encounter and asks how he would deal with the situation. The interesting part is that the situations were themselves so devoid of any detail that rendering some sort of “judgement” would be impossible for any rational person. Happily for the Christo-Mano Denizens, actual rationality is not required for all sorts of judgement to be passed. Indeed, the commenters were all too not only fill in the details, consistent with their own prejudices.
One particular scenario involved how to handle spending a holiday dinner (pick any one) with one’s long-divorced-and-remarried Mother and her spouse, along with other family members. Whatever is the good Christian son to do about entering the home of his Mother, now that he realizes that she is a whore (all divorced and remarried women are whores – ALL). Again, no details are provided (and it is presumed are unnecessary). We do not know if her first husband left; if she was left providing for her children without any support; what sacrifices she (and the new husband) may have made to see the children fed and sheltered and educated and clothed and loved and supported (and none of this matters because DIVORCE!). Presumably, they have had a good relationship with Mom and Step-dad, but now that they are Christians (and have discovered love and mercy and charity and forgiveness and redemption and all the other wonderful gifts from Him), they no longer know how to handle this offensive situation (because SIN!!!)
Anyway, as is often the case with me, I kept reading over the comments, and Guy de Maupassant’s heart breaking short story, “Boule de Suif”, came screaming to the forefront of my mind (not that brain-itching thing I was talking above, but almost a shriek). No, the plotline is not the same thing, but there is that certain mentality (I find rather repulsive) in those who can dismiss all that one person has done for them (all that parents do and sacrifice for the sake of their kids, for example), because now, they’ve has their moral consciousness wakened or something and/or that person is no longer needed.
Full disclosure – I am, myself, divorced and remarried and have zero regrets or second thoughts about it.
What really has lingered in my mind is how long it’s been since I’ve read short stories – one of my very favorite genres. I believe it requires a rather rare talent to pull them off and I’m going to list below some of my favorites which I hope might be inspiring to any readers here – I know that many will be familiar, but maybe a few will be new-to-you. In no particular order…
- Philip Roth’s “Defender of the Faith”
- Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Match Girl”
- William Dean Howell’s “Editha”
- Jeffrey Archer’s “Old Love”
- William Sidney Porter (O. Henry)’s “The Gift of the Magi” (of course!)
- Guy de Maupassant’s “Boule de Suif” and “He”
- Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Telltale Heart” and the “Cask of Amontillado”
- Susan Glaspell’s “A Jury of Her Peers”
- Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”
- Flannery O’Connor’s “Everything That Rises Must Converge”
- Isaac Azimov’s “I Robot”
- Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron”
- Ayn Rand’s “Anthem”
Here’s Happy Reading to us all. Special Note – Patricia Briggs’ new Mercy Thompson “Storm Cursed” will release Tuesday 07 May. My advice: take the day off and spend it in your jammies, on the couch with some tea, and dive in. I will not be able to take my own advice, so am reserving next Sunday for me and Mercy.