Short Stories All the Time

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... a few of my thoughts about 875, mostly contemporary, short stories.

19 March, 2017

Carson McCullers, "Wunderkind"

Frances goes to her piano lesson and abruptly leaves, knowing she'll never return. "As she passed through the vestibule she could not help but see his hands--held out from his body that leaned against the studio door, relaxed and purposeless. The door shut firmly. Dragging her books and satchel she stumbled down the stone steps, turned in the wrong direction, and hurried down the street that had become confused with noise and bicycles and the games of other children."

She's had piano lessons for three years and in the last few months, she's had some sort of an emotional break down, or just adolescent hormonal imbalance. "What had begun to happen to her four months ago? The notes began springing out with a glib, dead intonation."

"She stood up from the piano when it was over, swallowing to loosen the bands that the music seemed to have drawn around her throat and chest."

"Wunderkind" was McCullers first published story in 1936 in the journal Story. She was also a piano student and had a break with her teacher when Mary Tucker, her teacher, had to move away. Then Carson switched her interest to writing.

Carson McCullers, "A Tree - A Rock - A Cloud"

The story takes place in just a few minutes in a cafe early in the morning. It's still dark and the young, twelve-year old, paper boy goes in to buy a cup of coffee and is stopped by a sixty-something man who is nursing a beer at the counter. Leo works the grill and owns the cafe and is full of rude comments during the few minutes the old man tells the paperboy of his sad luck with his wife. She ran off and he tried to find her for two years until he developed a "science" of love.

The story was first published in 1942 in Harper's Bazaar.  Karen Allen is producing or has produced and directed a film based on this story.  The film's website says it is set in 1947.

Charles E. May has commented on this story on his blog, Reading the Short Story
Link to Wikipedia website about McCullers.

18 March, 2017

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, "Apollo"

The story is told some twenty years later from the viewpoint, first person, of Okenwa. He visits his elderly parents on a regular basis and on one of the trips he learned that Raphael was an armed robber. Then the story launches into the history of Raphael, their housekeeper, and Okenwa's lie. The lie has haunted him into adulthood.

The story takes place in Enugu, Nigeria. The story has a nice sense of place and builds the relationship between Raphael and Okenwa and their mutual love for Bruce Lee and so when the betrayal occurs, it's a blow and it's clear why it's haunted him all the ensuing years.

The theme is about how things we've said or things we should've said but didn't can change a person's life and can haunt a person with guilt. Words do matter, especially when one person has more power than the other. The portrayal of aging is treated with respect and kindness, yet honestly.

"Apollo" was first published in The New Yorker, April 13, 2015, and then included in the Best American Short Stories, 2016. Link to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's website.