Modern American Short Stories – Philip Van Doren Stern (ed.) (1943)

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In this short story collection first published in 1943, there were 19 stories from the 1920s and 1930s by authors with whom I was familiar (Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis, Steinbeck), some with whom I had only a name familiarity (Ring Lardner [one of Fitzgerald’s buddies], Dorothy Parker, James Thurber, Katherine Ann Porter) and then some who were new to me (Jerome Weidman, Sally Benson et al.) and one whose story I just couldn’t finish.

(You get three guesses. Oh, OK: it’s you, Hemingway with your Snows of Kilimanjaro).

Specifically, I enjoyed the following, most of which are available on-line if you’re so inclined:

  • Profession, Housewife – Sally Benson (1938)
  • You were Perfectly Fine – Dorothy Parker (1929)
  • Babylon Revisited – F. Scott Fitzgerald (1931)
  • The Happiest Man on Earth – Albert Maltz (1938)
  • Going Home – William Saroyan (couldn’t find the date published)
  • The Night the Ghost Got In – James Thurber (1933)
  • Young Man Axelrod – Sinclair Lewis (1917)

Published towards the end of WWII, this collection of short stories seems to be poignant and innocent in some ways. (Not surprising when you realize that some of them were written not too long after the carnage of WWI or within view of the outbreak of WWII). Several of the stories seemed to be rather sad in some ways — as though the authors had seen too much or experienced too much — and there’s a general feeling of this lost innocence. However, there’s also an edge that seems to warn readers that these authors are not to be taken advantage of, either.

After reading a great book of lit crit on The Great Gatsby, I especially liked reading something from Ring Lardner (friend of F. Scott’s) and a few of his other writing friends, although Hemingway (never my favorite at the best of times) was not a good addition, not only as I happen to find him annoying as a human being and as a writer but also because he was mean to Fitzgerald during his lifetime. Fitzgerald may have had his issues, but overall he seemed to be a pretty sensitive and gentle writer so I see no reason for Hemingway to be so shitty towards him. No need to be mean, is there?

Some good quotes for you:

There were a few Tommies that showed minute and white against the yellow, and far off, he saw a herd of zebra, white against the green of the bush.”

(HEMINGWAY/Snows of Kilimanjaro)

(Disclaimer: This was the one sentence of the few that I read and really enjoyed. Just sayin’.)

 It had been given, even the most mildly squandered sum, things most worth remembering, the thing that now he would always remember – his child taken from his control, his wife escaped to a grave in Vermont. (FITZGERALD/Babylon Revisited)

The Ghost that got in our house on the night of November 17, 1915, raised such a hullabaloo of misunderstandings that I am sorry that I didn’t just let it keep on walking                  and go to bed.                                                                    (THURBER/The Night the Ghost Came.)

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