Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Short Stories

First, I want to thank Anonymous for her or his comments regarding Frank C.'s status in the Financier. I agree, at 20, or so, Frank has accomplished quite a bit, and compared to many 20 year olds - why it hasn't been that long ago since this writer was 20, or perhaps even 2 X 20 - Frank is "Da Man." But I think that our author has deliberately cast him (i.e., Frank, not your blogger) as a kind of wunderkind. Recall that Frank has it "figured out" early in the novel. He knows what the world's struggles are all about. He knows who wins the battle of the weak and the strong. Recall the tremendous scene in the first 30 pages or so when Frank, as a boy, watches the battle of the sea creatures in the aquarium in the window of the store in Philadelphia. (I would be more specific about that battle but I took my copy of the F. back to the library a while ago and I can't look it up right now.) So, my point is, that at 20, Frank is on a mission, and he's successful. But Anonymous's point is well taken. In a way, Frank is almost two-dimensional; he's just a money making automaton who can do no wrong in the money business.

Now, I want to turn to Short Stories for at least a comment or two. I am reading a collection called "Free and Other Stories." Publication - 1st printing: August, 1918; 6th (and final) printing, April, 1927. Either date - that's a long time ago. The later date is 78 years ago!

The story "Free" might be summarized as "Clyde Griffiths and Roberta get married and live together and have a family." Ohhhh... It's not happy. [For those of you not there yet, Clyde and Roberta are an important twosome in American Tragedy. At first they think about marriage but then Clyde has other ideas and they take a boat ride together... and, well, I can't tell anymore because you have to read the book, but I can write that the boat ride does prevent their marriage.]

Anyway, in Free, our hero (Rufus Haymaker) is trapped in a death watch for his poor sick wife and the dilemma for Mr. Haymaker is that while he hates to contemplate her desperate condition, the truth is he never never liked the lady. So, there are many philosophical riddles and conundrums. The story's OK. It's called a "short story" but it's 53 pages! Dreiser can write, can't he - forever? The man never runs out of words.

Anyway, the story Free has some dark humor. To help the poor wife - remember, this is medicine (so called) as it was practiced at least 78 years ago - Dr. Storm orders "a transfusion." Blood is obtained from "a strong ex-cavalryman out of a position." The wife rallies, but just briefly. So then, a 2nd transfusion is ordered. This time - from a horse! And the husband is worried that his mixed and confused thoughts might somehow affect his wife's demise!

Meanwhile, Mr. Haymaker is thinking about being "free." Get it? And having a few years when he doesn't have to pretend, pretend, pretend. He ogles the nurse: "a smooth, pink, graceful creature, with light hair and blue eyes, the kind of eyes and color that of late, and in earlier years, had suggested to him the love time or youth that he had missed."

So far I have also read "McEwen of the Slave Makers", about a fellow who falls asleep and becomes a soldier with a colony of ants and a story with the very unpolitically correct title of "Nigger Jeff" in which a lynch mob is trying to abduct a black man being held by the sheriff.

Well, so much for happy themes that don't quite ever modulate to the major key.

I still need to comment on Sister Carrie, which I finished last weekend on a dark and stormy and chilly night; not quite as cold and stormy as the blizzard that filled New York's streets as George went for a final night in another flophouse and laid down to rest after he turned on the gas.

Hey, remember, they're just novels...

1 Comments:

Anonymous Michele Noe said...

Dear Mr. Ewing:

I've enjoyed reading your essays surrounding Dreiser's novels, though I have not read his works.

It's apparent to me that you might have given Dreiser a run for his money if he were a contemporary. I can't help but wonder if Dreiser in today's age would have found himself so consumed with blogging that he might never have been compelled to create his works of fiction.

I think it's admirable that you and others are keeping his works alive through your artful interpretations and colorful metaphors.

To answer your query on what I've been reading: I've just finished a series of books set in contemporary Scotland by a lawyer-professor-author named Alexander McCall Smith. He became well known from a series of books he wrote that were set in Botswana. He was educated and grew up in Zimbabwe. The two books I recently read were 44 Scotland Street (which I read while I was on vacation in Edinburgh) and its sequel, Espresso Tales.

Espresso Tales isn't available in the US yet (only available in the UK until next year). I think it's pay-back for all the Hollywood blockbusters that Britons don't get to enjoy until they've aired for three months in the States.

The two novels I read are very Dickensian, in that they were both serialized and published in Edinburgh's daily newspaper, The Scotsman. Often the author would only be a few days ahead of the paper's daily publishing cycle, so unlike most novel writers, he couldn't go back and rework any previous events that took place in earlier chapters. No rewrites possible!

Thanks for giving me an opportunity to listen to your lively literary voice.

4:09 PM  

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