I claim no special literary insight, other than these five short stories have stuck with me, as they have for many other readers besides. Links included.
1. ‘Bartleby, The Scrivener: A Story Of Wall Street‘
Catch-up with Turkey, Nippers, and Ginger Nut; their daily routines at the office.
‘I am one of those unambitious lawyers who never addresses a jury, or in any way draws down public applause; but in the cool tranquillity of a snug retreat, do a snug business among rich men’s bonds and mortgages and title-deeds. All who know me consider me an eminently safe man. The late John Jacob Astor, a personage little given to poetic enthusiasm, had no hesitation in pronouncing my first grand point to be prudence; my next, method.’
We all want to be alone, and to be with others, and Bartleby…Bartleby would just prefer not to:
‘Ah Bartleby! Ah humanity! ‘
2. ‘An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge‘
As they were for many other high-school boys, the first lines were enough for me:
‘A man stood upon a railroad bridge in northern Alabama, looking down into the swift water twenty feet below. The man’s hands were behind his back, the wrists bound with a cord. A rope closely encircled his neck.’
‘Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man?
3. ‘Everything That Rises Must Converge‘
O’Connor’s Southern Gothic style often flirts with the grotesque, and can traffic in the macabre, but there’s reason behind it, and a brilliantly skeptical, humane eye. Few writers get so many things right, in my opinion.
The world is changing, and so is the South.
Julian’s mother is living in the past:
‘They had reached the bus stop. There was no bus in sight and Julian, his hands still jammed in his pockets and his head thrust forward, scowled down the empty street. The frustration of having to wait on the bus as well as ride on it began to creep up his neck like a hot hand. The presence of his mother was borne in upon him as she gave a pained sigh. He looked at her bleakly. She was holding herself very erect under the preposterous hat, wearing it like a banner of her imaginary dignity. There was in him an evil urge to break her spirit. He suddenly unloosened his tie and pulled it off and put it in his pocket’
4. ‘A Distant Episode‘
A lot can be ‘swallowed’ up in the desert, lost in translation; across time, language and civilizations.
Things don’t always end well for the intellectually curious and perhaps naive:
‘It occurred to him that he ought to ask himself shy he was doing this irrational thing, but he was intelligent enough to know that since he Was doing it, it was not so important to probe for explanations at that moment.’
Let’s leave it at that.
To what does a man put his hopes?
But such wonderful writing:
‘When the short days of winter came, dusk fell before we had well eaten our dinners. When we met in the street the houses had grown sombre. The space of sky above us was the colour of ever-changing violet and towards it the lamps of the street lifted their feeble lanterns. The cold air stung us and we played till our bodies glowed.’