Sunday, February 26, 2012

Girls in Their Summer Dresses, Irwin Shaw


To my mind, this is one of the great short stories. I have probably read it a dozen times over the years.

A husband cannot stop looking at other women when he and his wife are out for a Sunday stroll. And she can't help noticing that instead of listening to her plans for the day, (which includes seeing a baseball game, he is looking at women. Relentlessly, as he always has.

When pushed, he lists all the reasons he looks at women. And it's a comprehensive list-an addiction for him.

Although he claims to have been faithful for the five years of their marriage, the lust in his heart is as lethal as an affair(s) would have been.

What short story sticks with you?

FOR ANYONE WHO HAS MISSED IT, CULLEN GALLAGHER'S NEW WESTERN-THEMED ZINE IS UP. FIRE ON THE PLAINS WITH A FIRST STORY BY JAKE HINKSON.

22 comments:

Bill Crider said...

I love this one, too, Patti. I haven't read it in years, but I still remember the last lines almost verbatim.

MP said...

This is a really famous story I'm ashamed to admit I've never read. Three that really stand out for me are "A Good Man is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor, "Bullet in the Brain" by Tobias Wolff, and a real knockout by John O'Hara called "Over the River and Through the Wood".

James Reasoner said...

Shaw's "Main Currents of American Thought" is the one I reread every year or so. Arthur C. Clarke's "The Nine Billion Names of God" is another one with a chilling, unforgettable last line. Hemingway's "The Light of the World" has one of the best first lines.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks for the tips.
Stories by Mr. Reasoner and Mr. Crider and Mr. Gorman are as good as any I've read.

Todd Mason said...

A number of writers are too lazily identified with a single early story (even when that story is brilliant at least in part, hence the obsession, but Robert Bloch [till PSYCHO] was the guy who wrote "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper" and Isaac Asimov "Nightfall", Theodore Sturgeon "Microcosmic God" and Jorge Luis Borges "El hombre de las esquinas rosadas" (literally, the man from the pink streetcorners, translated by Borges and di Giovanni as "Streetcorner Man"), Avram Davidson, "The Golem"...and all grew a bit tired of being told that this story from the first year or three or so of their careers was the best thing they ever wrote...happily, Sturgeon suffered this the least...but this is a long preamble to noting that "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" remains as devastating to me as anything Joyce Carol Oates has written since.

"Desertion" by Clifford Simak, "E for Effort" by T. L. Sherred, and "Coming Attraction" by Fritz Leiber remain excellent work to read, and they were timebombs in the context in which they were published--John Campbell realized that he hated the (necessary and humanist) message of both the Simak and the Sherred, but couldn't not publish them. The Leiber basically highlighted why Campbell's mode was too limited even when his instincts overrode his ideology, and the "insider" sf field as a whole was shaken by the implications of the story. But Leiber's "Smoke Ghost" is the even earlier horror story, among many, which changed even more the way people thought and wrote.

(BTW, the Bloch one needs to read: "Final Performance" though "Sweets to the Sweet" jostles "The Movie People" and "The Funnel of God" to push ahead; Asimov, "The Ugly Little Boy" though "What If--?" is among several dark horses; Sturgeon too forces a dilemma of so many to choose from, but the early "It" ranging through "It Wasn't Syzygy" and one which promises great things, I'd say, more than it quite delivers, "When You Care, When You Love" just brings us back to the likes of "A Way of Thinking" or "The Man Who Lost the Sea" or "A Saucer of Loneliness" or...; Borges, too, is a surfeit but "The Library of Babel" and "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" and "The Other Death" and "Funes the Memorious"...); Avram Davidson, "The Lord of Central Park" or "The King's Shadow Has No Limits" and even the very early "My Boyfriend's Name is Jello" has such a great feel to it...

A very open-ended task, answering this question!

Todd Mason said...

...Joanna Russ, "My Boat"...Kate Wilhelm, "The Funeral"...

Anonymous said...

"Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper" was one that jumped to mind too, as was "The Speciality of the House" by Stanley Ellin. The Shaw was also certainly memorable.

I just read one this week that is definitely the best thing I've read so far this year (of the 69 stories I've read to date) and way ahead of its time: Ray Bradbury's "The Small Assassin" (in his collction A Memory of Murder.

Jeff M.

Todd Mason said...

Early Bradbury, heavily (I do mean Heavily) influenced by early Sturgeon.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Is that the one made into a movie with Laura Dern and Treat Williams, Todd? Scared me to death if it was.
Specialty of the House is embedded n my brain these many years.

Todd Mason said...

SMOOTH TALK the film traduces the short story...the story will flatten the reader. Definitely seek it out. (Her first retrospective collection is named for it, unsurprisingly.)

"Specialty of the House" is a great one, though I read it with too many other similar stories at about the same time, such as Roald Dahl's and Lord Dunsany's...wonder if Ellin felt his other work was slighted!

pattinase (abbott) said...

Just read it again. Maybe one of her best stories. So chilling.

Steve Oerkfitz said...

A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O'Connor, Specialty of the House by Stanley Ellin, Howard Waldrop's The Ugly Chickens, Theodore Sturgeon's A Saucer of Loneliness, Aye and Gomorrah by Samuel Delaney, Narrow Valley by R.A. Lafferty, The Island of Dr Death and Other Stories by Gene Wolfe, Casablanca by Thomas Disch. Pretty much most of what Todd has already mentioned-glad to see some love for Avram Davidson.

Steve Oerkfitz said...

And how could I forget Alfred Bester's Fondly Fahrenheit.

Richard R. said...

"Summer Dresses" is a wonderful story.

Now to wrestle with the bloody word verif...

Cap'n Bob said...

More of a novelette, but I've always loved "A Boy and His Dog," by Harlan Ellison.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I have a book of his stories. Will look for it.

George said...

No one who reads Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" will ever forget it.

Todd Mason said...

Ah, good...you might remember how SMOOTH TALK is great up to about halfway, or even 2/3rds, then it breaks away from and negates "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"--something I should've explicated in criticizing the film (which was one of the PBS AMERICAN PLAYHOUSE series) last night.

"A Boy and His Dog" (a novella, so hard to miss in the collection its in) is good work, but if I was to keep only one Ellison, it's definitely going to be "The Deathbird," a devastatingly personal story for Ellison.

Steve's list is pretty excellent, though I seem to be in the minority who think that "6,271,009" is the best of Bester's short stories. (In the same 1954 issue of F&SF with stories by Shirley Jackson, Ray Bradbury, and Manly Wade Wellman...that qualifies as a good month.)

Anonymous said...

"The Lottery" is definitely one you don't forget. Todd, I was going to mention Dahl's "Lamb to the Slaughter" with the Ellin. I;d add "The WItness for the Prosecution" by Agatha Christie.

Jeff M.

Todd Mason said...

The Dunsany is even closer: "Two Bottles of Relish"

Deb said...

Blogger ate my comment this morning, perhaps this afternoon it will be more charitable:

Rebecca West's THE SALT OF THE EARTH, about a woman who insists on everything being done correctly and thus does everything wrong, is excellent. Also Connie Willis's CHANCES, a story in which a woman travels back in time to undo a terrible thing she did to her college boyfriend, has always stayed with me since I first read it. In addition to Shirley Jackson's THE LOTTERY, her THE POSSIBILITY OF EVIL, about the effect of poison-pen letters on a small town, is excellent.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't remember (or find) the exact title of the Dunsany - I knew it had "relish" in the title - so thanks, Todd.

Jeff M.