Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Short Story Wednesday From THE BEST AMERICAN STORIES OF THE CENTURY, ed. John Updike "The Theft" Katherine Ann Porter

This is a very short story that packs a lot into it without seeming to at first. The story was written in 1930 and you can feel the lack of money already. In fact, money drives the plot. Our protagonist is an unnamed woman who has interaction with three men and the female janitor in her rooming house. In each sequence, money plays a role. Either their clothes suffer, their furniture is wanting, their livelihood is threatened or in the case of the woman, a purse she values is stolen by the janitor. She is also unhappy in love. When I first read this story, I found it odd that it was chosen as one of the best ss of the century but on reading it again (and again) I began to see how economical Porter was in her use of words. How much she conveyed in probably less than 2000 words. How well she captured the new reality of the depression although she never names it. It is available here. 

 Katherine Anne Porter was an American journalist, essayist, short story writer, novelist, and political activist. Her 1962 novel Ship of Fools was the best-selling novel in America that year, but her short stories received much more critical acclaim. Wikipedia


Kevin Tipple 

Jerry House 


Rick Robinson 

Todd Mason


Margot Kinberg said...

Oh, gosh, I haven't read a Porter in a long time! I'm really glad you reminded me of her work.

Jeff Meyerson said...

I like it. Not only money but alcohol - this was still Prohibition - plays a part. Bill Crider used to talk about Porter's short stories a lot. I've only read a few but like them.

I finished Christopher Fowler's second collection of "horror" stories (some are, some aren't), RED gloves, VOLUME 2 - this one set around the world rather than in London. A few are quite good. One sort of silly one, "The Velocity of Blame," has almost an EC Comics feel to it/ "The Mistake at the Monsoon Palace" is interesting. A middle-aged woman goes alone on a trip to India (her husband won't come) and you see the poverty and sadness from her point of view, until she comes on the title Monsoon Palace and happens to be there when the monsoon hits. It gets interesting from there. "Arkangel" is kind of a chilling mystery set in Eastern Poland.

Dino Buzzati's "Just the Very Thing They Wanted" is a very disturbing story. A couple, obviously tourists, visit this small, insular town where they speak a dialect that is hard for them to understand. In fact, they can't understand the locals and the locals can't understand them, so when things go wrong they can't just explain themselves. Plus, the husband is woefully inarticulate and just stands there when his wife, who is dreadfully hot, climbs into a fountain to cool off - a fountain meant, so the locals say, for children only. From there is goes downhill swiftly. Disturbing story.

Todd Mason said...

Why are Fowler's stories "Horror", Jeff?

Patti, you know, I would've thought that Porter was one of your models in some ways...not so much? In fiction, you both seem to get at the texture of small interactions, and in relatively lean prose. Haven't yet read SHIP OF FOOLS, but would tend to read her short stories as I cam across them (I forget which one was in a 8th or 9th grade reading text) and FLOWERING JUDAS has been the only collection I've picked up, though I've certainly meant to read her work more systematically.

Jeff Meyerson said...

He calls them horror, Todd. They are for the most part not horror as most of us would define it.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I may have read more of her work years ago and now will look for them online. I have to stop buying so many books because probably I will move to a much smaller place in a year or two.
I should have mentioned the alcohol, which certainly played a large part. Did people really drink and smoke that much?

George said...

I remember reading "The Theft" and being stunned at all the smoking and drinking. I really think that's the way it was back then.

Todd Mason said...

People did drink and smoke that much. Along with the lousy jobs most people had, and the relatively fast advance of medicine but from not the highest launching pad, helped contribute to the relatively short average life expectancies of the period. Certainly my family has had stories.

Total war still being Doable didn't help, either. Likewise there, where one of my half-uncles was professional clown drafted into the Army and killed in combat.

Jeff, I haven't read much of Fowler, but even humorous stories that deal with extinction through supernatural means would qualify as horror for me. Humor and horror tend to go together often, whether we refer to regular practitioners (Robert Bloch, Janet Fox, Joe Landsdale, Edward Gorey, Margaret St. Clair, Saki) or occasional droppers-in (John Steinbeck, Joan Aiken, Ron Goulart, Muriel Spark, Joanna Russ).

Todd Mason said...

Mine is now up, Patti! Less incredibly late than usual...

Rick Robinson said...

Mine is up.

Rick Robinson said...

I don’t think I’ve read any Porter, but this sounds more like literary writing than genre, which isn’t where my reading usually aims.

Six days to the new William Kent Krueger novel!

TracyK said...

I will read this story, and see if I can find more to read eventually.

The mystery novel I am reading was published in 1941 (THE TURQUOISE SHOP by Frances Crane) and the male protagonist lights up a cigarette every time he shows up. There is a good bit of drinking but that part was not so noticeable to me.