Short Stories All the Time

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... a few of my thoughts about 900, mostly contemporary, short stories.
Showing posts with label McCullers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label McCullers. Show all posts

08 June, 2017

Carson McCullers, "Court in the West Eighties"

The story is told by an unnamed narrator who lives in a four-walled apartment complex in which all the windows looked out upon an enclosed courtyard. The setting reminds me of the movie Rear Window. The narrator was a college student at the time of the story. She was and is infatuated or intrigued with the guy whose window was across from hers. She watched him. She read books, Marx, Strachey, George Soule, that she'd bought for her friend back home before she mailed them to him. There's a couple who expected a baby and were going hungry, the husband evidently lost his job. There was a cello player who annoyed everyone. The narrator recalls this place sometime later, we don't know how much later. McCullers put into words those feelings and memories one has after the fact when one ponders and wonders about the people and the setting in one's past. McCullers evoked a sense of place and of characters so realistically that one feels she was there.

"Court in the West Eighties" was written about 1934 but not published until 1971. It's a great story and I'm not capable of explaining why.

05 June, 2017

Carson McCullers, "Who Has Seen the Wind?"

Third person POV, simple past tense, New York City setting, story about a writer who has published a couple of novels and then experienced writer’s block. He becomes an alcoholic with his marriage on the rocks. The story takes place between four o'clock in the afternoon and ends before 4 o'clock in the morning.

We see Ken move from socializing with publishing industry friends to people he barely knows and speaks with a writer who has published only one short story and becomes confrontational with the earnest young man. “’What makes you think you are a writer?’” We see Ken change from a fashionable fellow with a powerful wife who people want to be around to a man asking for money on the street for a cup of coffee.

The story was first published in 1956 in Mademoiselle.

I am so hooked on the stories of Carson McCullers. I only started reading her this past year and her stories are powerful, realistic, poignancy with an emotional accuracy in the candor. There's only one line in the story that I think is a POV shift that wouldn't be possible. "A hunched and haggard figure with luminous, lost eyes, Ken plodded slowly toward the subway." Ken wouldn't "see" himself?

“At four o’clock he put the clock in the clothes hamper, then returned to the typewriter.”

“’When I was young I was sure I was going to be a great writer. And then the years passed—I settled on being a fine minor writer. Can you feel the dying fall of this?’”

“There was a change—thirteen years ago when he published The Night of Darkness Esther would have fairly eaten him up and never left him alone at the fringe of the room.”

01 June, 2017

Carson McCullers, "The Haunted Boy"

"The Haunted Boy" was first published in November, 1955, Mademoiselle. It's about a dozen pages long, told in third-person POV, and simple past tense. We learn some of the backstory through Hugh's fear of a past event being repeated.

In the first couple of paragraphs, the story starts with cheerful flower borders then quickly moves into "something wrong," "no fire," "strangely naked," "cheerless," "red-dead," and "the other time." Then, for a moment, Hugh relaxes because there's a freshly baked lemon pie on the enameled table.

Hugh Brown and his high-school friend John Laney go to Hugh's house after school and when Hugh's mother is not home, he is scared and worried. He tries to detain John. Finally, Hugh has to confront his fear that his mother has attempted suicide again. The story might seem simplistic but the more you read, the complex emotional complexities Hugh, Hugh's father, and the mother have endured and how they've coped.

"He hated John, as you hate people you have to need so badly."

"To be obligated is to be obligated."

"'Naturally, my mother can make regular pie dough if she wants to.'"

"He had talked with no one about his mother, except his father, and even those intimacies had been rare, oblique."

"...and the grudge that had started when he saw the blood and horror and felt why did she do this to me."

"'I just want you to know that I realize how fine you were all that bad time. How fine, how damn fine.'"

21 May, 2017

Carson McCullers, "The Member of the Wedding"

The first section of the story was first published in Harper's Bazaar  in 1946. A film adaptation was released in 1952.

The story is about 130 pages long and divided into three parts, the last being the shortest and wrapping up the ends.

Frankie, F. Jasmine, Jasmine, and Frances are her name variations as she moves through adolescence to young woman. And, it's a hard won fight for Frankie. Her mother died the day she was born. Her brother, Jarvis, is away in the army and comes home just long enough to marry Janice.

John Henry, a cousin, is only six years old and the cook, Berenice, are Frankie's only friends and companions. She goes through growing pains and confusions while also having those philosophical thoughts and ideas that a kid that age has a hard time conveying to adults.

But the story is not just that. It also portrays racism, socio-economic differences, cross-dressing, transgenderism, non-binary gender, sexuality, belonging, and lynching in the era of WWII, Alabama, United States.

"She wanted to be a boy and go to the war as a Marine."
"I have knew boys to take it into their heads to fall in love with other boys."
"A man, mind you. And Lily Mae turned into a girl. He changed his nature and his sex and turned into a girl."
"How did that boy change into a girl?"
"She planned it so that people could instantly change back and forth from boys to girls, whichever way they felt like and wanted...And then John Henry...people ought to be half boy and half girl..."
"She heard him shuffle carefully across the room, for after the bath he had put on Berenice's hat and was trying to walk in Berenice's high-heeled shoes."

"'Because I am black,' said Berenice. 'Because I am colored. Everybody is caught one way or another.  But they done drawn completely extra bounds around all colored people. They done squeezed us off in one corner by ourself. So we caught that firstway I was telling you, as all human beings is caught. And we caught as colored people also. Sometimes a boy like Honey feel like he just can't breathe no more. He feel like he got to break something or break himself. Sometimes it just about more than we can stand.'"

There's so much more to this story that one should just go and read it.

12 May, 2017

Carson McCullers, "The Jockey"

The story is a glimpse into the anger and frustration a jockey feels at the serious and career ending injury of one of his friends. We see the jockey intrude on the dinner of the trainer, the bookie, and a rich man eating a fancy dinner as though nothing bad had happened to one of the jockeys who makes all of their careers possible. "'Libertines,' he said, and his voice was thin and broken. He rolled the word around in his mouth, as though it had flavor and a substance that gratified him. 'You libertines,' he said again, and turned and walked with his rigid swagger out of the dining room."

What I like most about the story is the tight, close look at a few minutes. The character of the jockey and his friendship and his pain are revealed without being explicitly stated. We also see the callous nature of the three men who can't be bothered or torn away from their decadent dining and drinking.

"The Jockey" is only five pages long. Simple past tense, no backstory. Omniscient POV that remains focused on the scene at hand. Or, I might call it third person limited shifting. The story was published in 1941 in The New Yorker. 

11 May, 2017

Carson McCullers, "Madame Zilensky and the King of Finland"

The story takes place early in WWII, somewhere in the United States, Ryder College. It's told from a limited 3rd person POV. Mr. Brooks has hired a female composer from Europe, originally from Finland. She arrives with her three young boys and a servant. She does a great job teaching but Mr. Brooks realizes that the woman is a pathological liar. He assumed some of her eccentricities arose from her trying to get her family out of Europe. Then he decides that she can live two lives via her lies. "If she passed the evening bent over a table in the library and later declared that she had spent that time playing cards, it was as though she had managed to do both those things. Through the lies, she lived vicariously. The lie doubled the little of her existence that was left over from work and augmented the little rag end of her personal life." Isn't this probably one of the survival tactics of people in wartime.

"Madame Zilensky and the King of Finland" was first published in The New Yorker December 20, 1941. And, then it was included in McCullers' collection, The Ballad of the Sad Cafe. I really like this story. It's of its time, WWII, European and American, and it shows a talented and creative woman surviving in her own way. One can never really understand how or why a person copes with life the way they do, especially in war time. The story zooms in and looks askance at Madame Zilensky through someone else's eyes. It doesn't get bogged down with backstory or extra commentary.

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.