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Short Story Monday: a Catch Up Day

September 7, 2009

John Mutford hosts Short Story Mondays.

When I started second grade in Texas, having been in the British system before that, I had a lot of cultural adjusting to do. I remember the one Friday early in the school year when my teacher announced a “Catsup” day. I’ve never been a fan of catsup, and I had no idea why we all had to eat it on a Friday. But it turns out, she really said “catch up” day, and that’s what I’m using Short Story Monday for this week. :) I really want to start reading R.I.P. stories from my awesome new anthology Poe’s Children (I use my in the loose, ‘the library’s’ sense of the term), but before that I need to review the short stories I read last month. So get ready for some randomness! (Just to point out, all of these can be read for free online, and I linked the titles to the source.)

RichardHardingDavis“Vera the Medium” by Richard Harding Davis
I know, this sounds all R.I.P.-style, doesn’t it? But I read it last month, because I’m doing an unofficial A-Z challenge for short stories this year (really, it’s because I don’t like letters missing from my review directories). Anyway, I needed a title beginning with ‘V,’ and this one jumped out because I’ve been very into mediums this year. Davis was born in 1864 (and died on my birthday, April 11, in 1916), and this story definitely reflects its times. Vera is a poor little innocent girl, taken advantage of because she couldn’t see an option, and when she throws herself on a big strong man, he promises to love her and take care of her forever. Ahem. Can you tell I wasn’t a huge fan? It’s also really long, and the whole first part was boring. So I wouldn’t recommend reading this one, but it did make me happy to meditate on how far women’s rights have come since then.

RuthPrawerJhabvala“Innocence” by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
I ran across “Innocence” trolling through the free New Yorker archives (you’ll notice lots of the stories I talk about today came from there), and it sounded interesting. It’s about an American hippie who is living in India and her experiences with her Indian landlords and roommates. I really enjoyed this one-it captured that kind of study abroad feeling, where everything’s an adventure and you feel like you’re changing by the second. And I liked the characters-an elusive, beautiful rich girl, the older married couple torn apart by guilt, the poor young man who’s a diligent worker. They weren’t anything ground breaking but nonetheless appealing and they felt like people rather than sterotypes. I’d recommend this one for anyone who’s travelled/lived abroad or wish that they had. Later, I looked up more about Jhabvala-she’s had a crazy life. Born in Germany in 1927, emigrated to Britain in 1939 (for obvious reasons), married an Indian architect and moved to Delhi, and now is an American citizen who lives in both the US and India. Oh, and during all this she managed to win a Booker Prize and garner comparisons to Jane Austen. I definitely want to read one of her novels soon!

VladimirNabokov“Natasha” by Vladimir Nabokov
I’m not sure I would have liked Nabokov as a person, but as a reader, I’m in love with him. His diction, his philosophies, his characters…I find them all inexpressibly beautiful. “Natasha” was no exception-it mainly focuses on a young woman taking care of her sick father and conversations between her and her neighbour, Baron Wolfe. They talk a lot about memory and imagination and truth and say things like

She laughed. “Don’t be silly. After all, we are even. Everything I told you about my ecstasies and the Virgin Mary and the little bell was fantasy. I thought it all up one day, and after that, naturally, I had the impression that it had really happened. . . .”


“Am I really lying when I pass off my fantasies as truth? I had a friend who served for three years in Bombay. Bombay? My God! The music of geographical names. That word alone contains something gigantic, bombs of sunlight, drums. Just imagine, Natasha—that friend of mine was incapable of communicating anything, remembered nothing except work-related squabbles, the heat, the fevers, and the wife of some British colonel. Which of us really visited India? . . . It’s obvious—of course, I am the one. Bombay, Singapore . . . I can recall, for instance . . .”

Then the ending is so perfect, it’s almost unbearable. So go read it!

“The Five Wounds” by Kristin Valdez Quade
This one caught me off guard with its loveliness. I’d never heard of Quade before, but how I could I ignore an opening like this

This year Amadeo Padilla is Jesus. The hermanos have been practicing in the dirt yard behind the morada, which used to be a filling station. People are saying that Amadeo is the best Jesus they’ve had in years, maybe the best since Manuel García.
Here it is, just Holy Tuesday, and even those who would rather spend the evening at home watching their satellite TVs are lined up in the alley, leaning in, fingers curled around the chain-link, because they can see that Amadeo is bringing something special to the role.

This is no silky-haired, rosy-cheeked, honey-eyed Jesus, no Jesus-of-the-children, Jesus-with-the-lambs. Amadeo is pockmarked and bad-toothed, hair shaved close to a scalp scarred from fights, roll of skin where skull meets thick neck. You name the sin, he’s done it: gluttony, sloth, fucked a second cousin on the dark bleachers at the high school.

The story is set in a poor town in New Mexico and focuses on Amadeo Padilla. He’s not the best of people, but he’s intent on living up to his role of Jesus (the town does a re-enactment of the Passion every year). But then when his fifteen-year-old daughter (who usually lives with her mother) shows up at his doorstep pregnant, he must try to figure out how to deal with her and not ruin his performance. The story was so raw and human at the same time that the writing was so lyrical and exquisite, that the contrast was fascinating. Another new-to-me author that I’ll be exploring more in the future!

AleksandrSolzhenitsyn“The Phone Call” by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Finally, another Russian to round things off! I love the idea of spy books in theory, but in actuality I’m very picky about my spy fiction. Still, when I saw this short story about a Russian who tries to call the American embassy and warn them about WMDs during the Cold War, I had to check it out! I’ve never read spy lit from the ‘other side.’ :) At first I was rolling my eyes at the obvious conventions used. But pretty soon, I was drawn into the story, and I experienced the traitor’s fear. It definitely had a very different flavour than Western spy lit, and I’d be curious to read more (this ‘story’ is actually an excerpt from a book, which I found out after I’d read it).

What’s your favourite short story? Is it available online?

Are you an avid short story reader? Do you read them individually, rather than reading a collection or anthology straight through? If so, how do you ‘track’ them?

15 Comments leave one →
  1. September 7, 2009 5:44 am

    lol, “catstup day” :D I’ll be skipping “Vera the Medium”, but the others sound good!

    I’ve been neglecting short stories this year, but normally I read them both individually and in collections and anthologies. As I was telling Leslie at Books and Border Collies the other day, when I read them individually I make every ten or so “count” as a book :P

  2. September 7, 2009 7:55 am

    I really want to read Nabokov’s stories, and that Solzenitsyn one sounds wonderful, too!

    Like Ana said, I’ve also been neglecting short stories this year. I’m letting that slide for now, but I want to add short stories as a regular (meaning: weekly) thing to my blog next year.

  3. September 7, 2009 8:02 am

    I really want to read something by Vladimir Nabokov :-)

    I love reading short stories. Most of the time I’ll read them all at once if they’re a collection by one author or a collection on one subject. I do have several short story anthologies (ie. Penguin Book of British Short Stories; Oxford Book of American Short Stories; Penguin Book of American Short Stories, etc.) that I keep close to my bed in case I fancy a quick dip in and out of reads and authors :)

  4. September 7, 2009 8:15 am

    I feel exactly the same about Nabokov – that’s why I haven’t read any biographies of him. I love his writing so much! I don’t want to find out he wasn’t very nice!

  5. September 7, 2009 8:55 am

    I enjoy short stories, though I know I’ve neglected them in the past year. But you just reversed that. I’m off to read Solzhenitsyn; his One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is one of my favorite books.

  6. September 7, 2009 9:43 am

    I just started Lolita, and when I was looking at Nabokov quotes I had the same reaction. He seems like a bit of a snob. Although having said that, I myself am guilty of snobbery!

  7. September 7, 2009 10:06 am

    The last two really appeal to me. Thanks for providing the links. I thought I`d also be into the Jhabvala story, but you lost me at `comparisons to Jane Austen`.

  8. September 7, 2009 11:32 am

    What wonderful links! I am a huge fan of short stories, but that hasn’t always been the case. For a long time (I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I will, b/c I’m Catholic and maybe I’ll get some absolution if I cop to my ignorance) I thought short stories were just inadequate novels. What an idiot I was. A few years ago, I began writing them, thinking that would be a good way to break up the sometimes crushing weight of writing a novel — and so I read a lot of great people to learn how to construct a story properly. Carver, Moore, Welty, Updike — there are so many great story writers, and Americans seem particularly good with this form. Right now, i’m reading Updike’s linked stories that follow the life of a typical Updike couple from the beginning of their marriage through their divorce and end when they become grandparents. It’s called The Maples — I’m love the writing, and I’m also enjoying the way you can see his writing change through the years.

  9. September 7, 2009 1:47 pm

    I am beginning to feel like I am missing out. I very rarely read short stories. I think I may need to rectify this.

  10. September 7, 2009 6:23 pm

    Of course I have to read the obligatory short stories for the classes I teach, but I REALLY need to jump back on the short story bandwagon for my own enjoyment. The Nabokov sounds especially wonderful. I *heart* him ever since I read Lolita and Pnin.

  11. September 8, 2009 12:23 pm

    More proof of Eva’s unquestionable adorableness:

    1. the catsup story

    2. not wanting letter gaps in her review directory

    3. loving a man for his diction

    Yes, you make me smile from the heart, my dear!

  12. September 8, 2009 2:24 pm

    Nymeth, this year, I’ve just been totalling them on a seperate page. I think that works, since I don’t worry about page counts. But maybe I’ll count them as books at the end!

    Amanda, join in SS Mondays! :)

    Ceri, he rocks! Go read the short story! lol Last year, I read mainly all collections, so this year I’ve tried to get more into anthologies. But it backfired-instead I’ve been reading fewer stories.

    Jenny, right-I try to avoid bio’s of most authors for that reason! Although Nakobov made a brief cameo in the Chagall bio I’m reading right now. :)

    Hazra, I hope you enjoy the Solzhenitsyn! I need to read more of him. :)

    Softdrink, yeah-he was a total snob! And what’s disgusting is that he was *so* talented and knew it, lol. A bit of modesty would have made me more attractive! :)

    John, I refuse to rise to your Austen bait. :p I didn’t think she sounded particularly Austen-ish, but that’s what wikipedia said, lol.

    Bloglily, “Bless me father…” lol. ;) I didn’t always appreciate short stories as much as I do now either!

    Vivienne, you should definitely try them out!

    Andi, isn’t he marvelous?

    Debi, awww-you’re the sweetest!

  13. September 9, 2009 12:14 pm

    I love the “catsup” day! How fun. I read a collection of Nabokov’s stories and they were absolutely incredible.

  14. September 9, 2009 3:46 pm

    Rebecca, aren’t kids funny? lol Nabokov=heart-breaking brilliance

  15. June 17, 2010 2:06 pm

    After you send me a link (I was very grateful) to Natasha by Nabokov I read and greatly enjoyed the plot and the setting among White Russians in Paris-the story was translated from Russian so we do not get a feel for his language but I loved the story-I am currently reading my way through his Lectures on Literature-his ego is huge!-there is a good video on you tube of an actor doing his lectures in the late 1940s at an American college

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