Tag Archives: short stories

“I don’t read fiction”

images “I only read non-fiction”, some people say, as if there was only truth in history or political analysis or science. They refuse to waste their time on fiction. More’s the pity, for that’s where truth REALLY hangs out.

I’m reading the wonderful stories of Dorothy Parker and I have to say her understanding shines brighter, sharper, and stronger than any non-fiction book about relationships or human behaviour or the story of societies. Stronger than Alice Munro’s tales but often in the same area of what others tend to put down as woman’s stories (argh!), her message comes at you with like a thunderbolt, leaving you gasping as the realization of what she has done hits. I simply don’t understand why Parker is often described solely as the quick witted riposte queen, when she was obviously a writing powerhouse and always has been.

The story “Mr. Durant” is such a blast. She tells the story of a self-centred man in tones of such casual damning it’s not until you get to the last paragraphs that you realize how horrid he truly is. He is married, with two children, a wife he calls Mummy.

He has an affair. She gets pregnant, he insists upon and pays for an abortion. He is completely blind why she would want never to work with him again. Rather he thinks this is perfect, all tidied up, as it were. He won’t even have to run into her and suffer any embarrassment at work. He heads home, smug in his ability to put things away.

The children find a lost and starving puppy, and at first he is finally persuaded to keep it.

Until he learns it is a girl.

“Into his den, Mr. Durant preceded his wife, and faced her, still frowning. His calm was not shattered, but it was punctured….

“Now, you know perfectly well, Fran, we can’t have that dog around,” he told her. He used the low voice reserved for underwear and bathroom articles and kindred shady objects. There was kindness in his tones that one has for a backward child, but Gibraltar-like firmness was behind it. “You must be crazy to even think for a minute. Why, I wouldn’t give a she-dog houseroom, not for any amount of money. It’s disgusting, that’s what it is.”

…”Disgusting,” he repeated. “You have a female around, and you know what happens. All the males in the neighbourhood will be running after her. First thing you know, she’ll be having puppies – and the way they look after them and all!…I should think you’d think of the children, Fran. No sir, they’ll be nothing like that around here, not while I know it. Disgusting!”

He sends the dog away when the children are sleeping, so he never has to break a promise (he promised they could keep it) – “I’ve never broken a promise yet, have I?” he asks in his banally awful way.

“Again his mind wrapped itself in the knowledge that everything was fixed, all ready for a nice fresh start.”

Don’t you just want to slap this man senseless? This one nine-page story manages to install the kind of hatred for a man that makes you think of violence, everything from the being called “Daddy” by his wife, to his self-explanations for horrid behaviour, to his pride in “keeping promises” while laying waste to all the hearts around him.

And don’t you know people that are like this? Egad. Makes my skin crawl, but yes, I do.

Read all of Dorothy Parker’s stories. You won’t regret it, but you might need a drink afterwards. As for me, I have a new/old mentor. It will be fun trying to emulate her…

Ref: Dorothy Parker: Complete Stories, Colleen Breese, ed. Excellent forward by Regina Barreca. Penguin Books 2003

The utter joy of a secondhand bookstore

The other day I found a treasure at a used bookstore. It is this book, selected Prose and Poetry of Poe, with the introduction by W.H.Auden.
Now, I haven’t started on the Poe part yet, but I am suffused with joy at the introduction. Must say, the more I know Auden, the more I put him at my imaginary dinner table in heaven. I’d like to spend just an hour or so in his company, if he’d let me.
His gentle yet critical view of Poe’s work is filled with a shared amazement at how Poe persisted, his gaps, his utter failures bounded by spectacularly odd successes.
Poe’s development as a critic “never ..to his potential full stature” is compared to Baudelaire’s –

Think of the subjecs that Beaudelaire was granted – Delacroix, Constantin Guys, Wagner- and hen he kind of books Poe was asked to review:
Mephistopheles in England , or the Confessions of a Prime Minister
The Christian Florist…
Dashes at Life with a Free Pencil …

One is astounded that he managed to remain a rational critic at all, let alone such a good one.>

In terms of Poe’s character, which was described as romantically doomed, Auden points out that this is not the case, “it turns out he was only the kid of fellow whom one hesitates to invite to a party because after two drinks he is apt to become tiresome, an unmanly sort of man whose love life seems to have been largely confined to crying in laps and playing house, that his weaknesses were of the unromantic kind for which our age has the least tolerance, perhaps because they are typical of ourselves.”

On second thought, I might be afraid to have Auden at my dinner table. I would be terrified to bore him, to hear this damning with faint praise I’ve dreaded all my life.

On the other hand, he makes me want to read Poe, not the usual Raven or Casks, but Gordon Pym , Ligeia and The Man of the Crowdand his other poetry, in ever knew of the existence of these stories, poor ignorant me. I know I will be richer for the experience of reading them.

So glad I found this book, and so many others, in a serendipitous way. Second hand bookstores are mystical treasure troves, and I hope they never ever cease to be.

Taking flight…

I’ve been working on a little story for a while now. It originally was a story from the fantastical 3DayNovel contest – dashed off in a pile of sweat and handwriting over three days, painstakingly typed into my computer over the next day or two. I was thrilled that it survived the competition, made it to the top twelve!

I was so proud of it.

So then I thought, gee, maybe I should send it somewhere else, see how it can cope out there in the big bad world. So I’ve been working on it, toiling now and again, thinking about it. It’s not an easy story to place, being a bit odd and perhaps a bit offensive to some, though I tried to write it with love and affection throughout.

I had wonderful friends who read it, helped me catch errors, helped me make it clearer, less of a three-day panic attack (though I HIGHLY recommend that contest!). Thank you and kisses to HJ, PH, JP. It’s a shinier thing thanks to you.

Now it’s all grown up, ready to leave the nest, ready to face the cruel world. In fact, it HAS to leave the nest. I’m entering it in a contest and the deadline is so close I can smell its breath.

Of course, it’s heavily laden with my hopes and dreams and such things. Which tells me immediately that I’d better get some more submissions out there so the poor wee thing can fly without having to drag my entire psyche with it.

So fly, little story. A part of my heart goes with you. It’s time for you to connect with others now.

And now, back to work…


Read “A Baby Tramp,” A Short Story by Ambrose Bierce

Read “A Baby Tramp,” A Short Story by Ambrose Bierce.

From the Awesome Biblioklept blog where I have spent many a happy hour….

More treats….How to write short stories.


Originally published in World Literature Today. Images via Defining Myself Secondhand.

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