Chips & Roast BeefTuesday, March 29, 2011
There was a girl going along on a little wagon right in front. " Girl," I says, "come and help me haul these things down the hill. I'm going to live in the post office."
Why I Live at the P.O. by Eudora Welty
It was reading Eudora Welty’s Why I Live At The P.O. today that made me reconsider my views on the short story.
For too long for me the short story has been the potato chip bag of my literary menu. When possible I opt for the roast beef that is the novel. And yet I must admit that my venture into reading really began in the late 50s with science fiction short stories such as Tales From the White Hart by Arthur C. Clarke and Ray Bradbury’s The Golden Apples of the Sun. In Spanish I was delighted by Julio Cortázar’s Ceremonias (the first story, Continuidad de los Parques appropriately begins with a man in a wing chair reading a novel) and I have a solid collection of Jorge Luís Borges stories of which Ficciones and El Hacedor are my favourites. I continued reading short stories in Spanish and in particular the short stories of Cuban-born Alejo Carpentier. I loved his Viaje a la Semilla which is as short story that is written "backwards". It begins with the candles at a wake getting longer and ends with the metal nails of a wooden ship flying off to the iron mines whence they came from and the ship's timbes go out to become trees again. In his longish short story El Acoso all events, are initiated and end, within a live 45 minute performance of Beethoven's Third Symphony.
Sometime in the early 70s one of my English students in Mexico gave me a nice hard cover copy of William Faulkner’s Go Down Moses. I started Bear many times and only in the last few years did I finally find the gumption to finish it. If anything Go Down Moses proves to me that roast beef need not be the exclusive territory of the novel.
But I did start begin “serious” short stories in 1979 when I ordered The Stories by John Cheever from Book-of-the-Month Club. After reading The Swimmer I was hooked to Cheever and I read whatever I could find. It has only been of late (last year) that I finally got to read some of his competition, Memoirs of Hecate County by Edmund Wilson.
It was one of those midsummer Sundays when everyone sits around saying," I drank too much last night." You might have heard it whispered by the parishioners leaving church, heard it from the lips of the priest himself, struggling with his cassock in the vestiarium, heard it from the golf links and the tennis courts, heard it from the wildlive preserve where the leader of the Audobon group was suffering from a terrible hangover. " I drank too much," said Donald Westerhazy. "We all drank too much, " said Lucinda Merrill. "It must have been the wine," said Helen Westerhazy. "I drank too much of that claret."
The Swimmer - John Cheever
My most recent interest in short stories is thanks to finding the on-line version of Eudora Welty’s gem. If anything it all points to some of the definite advantages of the internet age. I printed (and stapled it together) Why I Live at the P.O. with my b+w laser printer (this has been one intelligent choice in the many silly ones I have made in the last few years). Rosemary read it and found it delightful, too. She has commanded me to go to the main branch of the Vancouver Public Library to find some more Eudora Welty. We are both plotting in getting Rebecca to sit down in our living room as we take turns reading it Why I Live at the P.O. out loud. Who knows perhaps the short story can be a bag of potato chips and once you have one you cannot stop!
Addendum: It is curious that in our paperless society my stapler is one of my most useful devices and that somehow the rubber stamp is alive and well at my local bank.