Short Stories All the Time

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

04 May, 2017

John O'Hara, "A Short Walk From the Station"

A seven-page short story that shows a man who suddenly can no longer ignore someone, a woman, Lydia, who was and had been so important to him. And, Lydia is finally given a chance to tell Francis how she felt and feels and is released from the hatred she'd harbored.

O'Hara reveals the history of these two people through minimal clues. It's as if we, the readers, snuck in the back door and eavesdropped. The story takes place in Pennsylvania, Paoli, to be exact, and in the amount of time it takes Francis to exit the train and walk up a street, enter a store, and have the brief conversation. Yet, an entire life is revealed. Seven pages, no backstory, to speak of, except what's revealed through dialogue. Amazing. This is what a short story is for me, a tight glimpse into a person that exposes his or her core essence.

My copy of the story is from his collection, published 1962, The Cape Cod Lighter, by Random House. The foreword by O'Hara is quite biting. "Why bother so much about a man for whom I have no respect? Well, for two reasons: Mr. Lovechild has a good job on an important publication, and a lot of readers assume that what he says must be true; and, in spite of his proclaimed aversion to fiction, he has used a personal relationship directly to influence the awarding of a major literary prize for a novel that did not deserve it."

In The Wall Street Journal, October 1-2, 2016, Thomas L. Jeffers wrote, "The knowledge that class, not sex, is America's dirty little secret came from painful experience. Like Joe at Harvard, O'Hara (1905-70) felt alienated among the 'smart set' on the East Coast--only doubly so, since he hadn't even gone to college."

"Though most of O'Hara's characters are in hell already, he almost always sympathizes with them. He knows what it's like to break rules, drink and sleep around."

The blog, Short Story Magic Tricks, brought this story to my attention and I'm sure happy about it. I have three volumes of O'Hara stories on my shelf but haven't read but a few. John O'Hara was not a very pleasant person, it seems, but he sure knew how to write a short story.

Wikipedia page

07 October, 2016

John O'Hara, "Afternoon Waltz"

What a funny, as in oddly interesting for its components, story. John Evans helped his mother commit suicide. "No doubt about it; for both occupants of 1008 Lantenengo Street an era of ease and comfort had begun with the passing of John Wesley Evans' mother." He's left with a big house and lots of money. At age 25, he decides he's going to remain a bachelor and think and read and buy lots of books. Mrs. Harriet Shields, the neighbor lady, encourages him to learn to dance so that he can join the Assembly. He doesn't know how to dance because of his Methodist upbringing. He takes waltz lessons every afternoon, in secret, from Harriet. Then, he finds out he has only months to see. His eyesight has been declining since he was a kid.

Anyway, all that to say the story is ultimately about privacy and gossip and appearances and conforming. The first few paragraphs talk about the way the houses are built and/or situated so that passers-by cannot see inside. The exact address of the Evanses' house is given several times. The exact amount of money John is left is given. His name is the same as his father's except first and middle names switched. He's parents had wanted him to become a minister.

There's also a good deal of narration about Protestants and Catholics. "God would be more severe in His judgment of Catholics, because they were supposed to know better."

"It was well known, of course, that churchgoing Catholics never stole, and Gladys Evans never refused Sarah permission to go to church."

"Good gracious, no. Nor at your clumsy Sarah. But I am angry with whoever tried to pump her. I'll find out who that was, and make her pay for it. I love gossip, but I believe in certain rules."

02 October, 2016

John O'Hara, "The Doctor's Son"

"The Doctor's Son" takes place in 1918, Pennsylvania. The flu epidemic is rampant and a medical student, Dr. Myers, arrives to temporarily take the place of Dr. Malloy until he can rest and recuperate for a few days. The narrator, James, is the son of Dr. Malloy and he serves as the driver for Dr. Myers. James learns about the weaknesses of men and women. The story was published in 1935 and included in the collection The Doctor's Son and Other Stories. Then included in The O'Hara Generation.

O'Hara certainly portrays the sense of place and a close study of the people, their habits, their speech, and their proclivities.

The opening paragraph: "My father came home at four o'clock one morning in the fall of 1918, and plumped down on a couch in the living room. He did not get awake until he heard the noise of us getting breakfast and getting ready to go to school, which had not yet closed down. When he got awake he went out front and shut off the engine of the car, which had been running while he slept, and then he went to bed and stayed, sleeping for nearly two days. Up to that morning he had been going for nearly three days with no more than two hours' sleep at a stretch."

The story is about 32 pages long and told in simple past tense.

01 October, 2016

John O'Hara, "Over the River and Through the Wood"

This close third-person POV story shows how an innocent mis-step in manners can have dire consequences, even as we aren't privy of the extent of the consequences just yet, but we can imagine that it's not pleasant for Mr. Winfield. Also, the theme of saving face or keeping up appearances as he doesn't divorce his wife because he wants to "protect" his daughter, granddaughter and son-in-law is evident. And, conversely, Mary's husband wants to make everything appear okay, "I'll pay the delinquent taxes myself and give you a hundred and fifty thousand dollars for the house and grounds. That ought to be enough to pay off your debts and give you a fairly decent income." Mr. Winfield didn't want to become "a family charge--protecting the very same people from the embarrassment of a poor relation."

On a chauffeured car ride to Thanksgiving celebration with his granddaughter, Sheila, and two of her friends, Mr. Winfield doesn't speak much but carefully observes and listens to the young women speak of friends and acquaintances. He judges their character and decides that the Farnsworth girl is most interesting and will have what she wants in life. "Miss Farnsworth looked out of the window most of the time, and said hardly anything. Mr. Winfield could see more of her face, and found himself asking, 'I wonder if that child really likes anybody.' Well, that was one way to be. Make the world show you. You could get away with it, too, if you were as attractive as Miss Farnsworth."

The quartet arrives at the house in Lenox, Massachusetts, from Connecticut, and Mr. Winfield falls getting out of the car. His daughter, Mrs. Mary Day, insists he take a hot bath and have some cocoa even though he'd have preferred a drink. "You could have a drink if you wanted, but you're on the wagon, aren't you."

We find out that the house used to be Mr. Winfield's, fifteen years earlier, but because of some trouble and after the death of Mrs. Winfield, Mary's husband bought the house from him for, in today's dollars, 2 ½ million dollars. Also, he was semi-offered a position through a friend of Mr. Day's who knew Mr. Harding, the President. Then we learn that Mr. Winfield had been unfaithful to his wife with a Enid Walter.

When the maid, Ula,  brings the hot cocoa there are two cups and Mr. Winfield decides to offer some to Miss Farnsworth. Well, he makes a huge social blunder and the story ends with "For a while he would just sit there and plan his own terror."

Library of America has just published Stories: by John O'Hara and in the Saturday/Sunday, October 1-2, 2016 issue of The Wall Street Journal there is a review by Thomas L. Jeffers. According to the review in the WSJ, "Of the 402 stories O'Hara published, Mr. McGrath has chosen a representative 60, nearly all first-rate." Also, stated in the article is that O'Hara published 247 stories in The New Yorker. And, that along with Dorothy Parker and Wolcott Gibbs, O'Hara contributed to the idea of "the New Yorker story." One with understatements, indirectness, and not much plotting.

I own hard-back copies of The O'Hara Generation, The Cape Cod Lighter, and Assembly. I'll have to do a cross-check and see what I have compared to the new edition by The Library of America. I love the notes and information that Library of America includes.

10 March, 2012

John O'Hara, "Your Fah Neefah Neeface"

The story starts out with a man recalling an incident thirty years in the past and again twenty years in the past. He'd witnessed a prank by a brother and sister at the time believing the long lost reunion to be real. He meets the girl, now a married woman with two kids, twenty years later. Through the dialogue at which O'Hara triumphs, we learn that people have harshly and incorrectly judged Sallie about the type of relationship she had with her now deceased brother. This story shows how people's imagination and gossip do affect people and that we never know what people think about us. This theme is reinforced when Sallie tells the narrator of her "open" marriage and they discuss how people like to take sides and judge one participant to be at fault. Someone has to be to blame.

At the end of the story, we also learn that Sallie and Johnny danced at parties imitating brother and sister, Fred and Adele Astaire.

The story is only eleven pages long and is written in first-person point of view. O'Hara is good at sticking with a particular strain of the story. He doesn't waver or get off track and his dialogue is magnificent in its realism and the amount of work it performs in advancement of the story.

09 March, 2012

John O'Hara, "You Can Always Tell Newark"

This story is about secrets, history repeating itself, living dishonestly and how a personal revelation might make you never see your life the same way again. John O'Hara uses dialogue expertly. In having discussions, Ned Williams, aged 50, realizes that he probably has a daughter. And, a young man in love with Ned's supposed new daughter is probably repeating history in the sense that the young woman in question is married to someone else and pregnant also.

I liked this story a lot. I'm impressed with the ease that the dialogue flows while revealing story while at the same time rounding out characterizations.

06 March, 2012

John O'Hara, "Mary and Norma"

With Selected Shorts reading John O'Hara's short story, "The Graven Image," recently caused me to pull a volume of O'Hara stories from my shelf. "Mary and Norma" superbly tells the story of two sisters-in-law and their promiscuous behavior. It is 12 pages long and a great deal of it is dialogue. There is also suspense that made me eagerly read as I wanted to know how Mary and Norma's situations would be resolved. The ending is one of the type where the reader knows that the main character is going to continue behaving in much the same way. Excellent.

I like O'Hara's stories and I don't hear him mentioned very often but he died in 1970 which these days seems centuries ago. I read somewhere that he had published 251 short stories. He wrote the novel, Butterfield 8, that was made into a movie.

Wikipedia page for O'Hara
SteveReads blog review of O'Hara, The New Review
O'Hara Society web page