May is Short Story Month, Part 1

Yes, there is an official “Short Story Month.” Who would’ve thought? As the honorific is designed to do, this writer of short stories (http://www.amazon.com/Halibut-Rodeo-Mark-Lewandowski/dp/0984421939/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1305732251&sr=1-1) has been thinking of the ones I like the most, the stories that become better with multiple readings. So I made a list, roughly in chronological order. In order to narrow down the choices (millions have been published, I suppose) I’ve limited myself to American ones. That’s okay. The short story is probably the most American of the literary genres, though story lovers, obviously, shouldn’t ignore de Maupassant, Chekhov, Joyce, Kafka, etc. I’ve also limited myself to one story per author.

So here goes:

“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” Washington Irving. Most people know the premise of the story, even though few have read the original. That’s a shame, because it is a masterpiece of the form. It’s also a great story about food.

“The Birthmark,” Nathaniel Hawthorne. I once got in an argument about the ending of this story with a woman I was dating. I maintained that Georgiana doesn’t really die at the end, but ascends to heaven, just like Mohammed. She didn’t agree. We never went out again.

“Ligeia,” Edgar Allan Poe. Nobody manipulates the first person viewpoint better than Poe. There are typically two versions of a Poe story: the story as reported by the narrator, and the story as it actually happens. If you believe the narrator, “Ligeia” is a horror story. If you don’t, the narrator is a murderer trying desperately to cover his tracks. It’s not a horror story…

“Bartleby, the Scrivener,” Herman Melville. This is probably my all-time favorite story. Many readers miss the point of the closing section. If you believe Bartleby prefers not to do stuff because of his experience working in the dead letter office, you are just as clueless as the befuddled narrator.

“A White Heron,” Sarah Orne Jewett. I’m not sure if there is a better short story about a sexual awakening.

“The Story of an Hour,” Kate Chopin. One of the most read short stories in the English language. Short, sweet, and to the point. We now call stories like this “short shorts,’ or “flash fiction.” Surprisingly, not all readers get the irony at the end.

“The Blue Hotel,” Stephen Crane. The author didn’t write much before he died at the age of 29, but oh what a legacy. This story shows that the “Wild West” was romanticized decades before John Wayne started making movies.

“To Build a Fire,” Jack London. These days the author is held in higher regard abroad than he is at home. Funny how that works. Story shows that sometimes dogs are far smarter than men.

“Editha,” William Dean Howells. The author is known more as a critic and novelist than a short story writer, but “Editha” is a classic of anti-war literature. Every person who got caught up in post-9/11 war lust should read it. Apparently, George W didn’t.

“The Beast in the Jungle,” Henry James. Like most of the author’s novels, this story is long and complex, and not much seems to happen. That’s the point. The last page is devastating.

To be continued…

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