Saturday, January 13, 2018

Breaking the Ice Essay by Dave Barry Review

Dave Barry is American journalist who gained popularity writing for a regional newspaper Miami Herald and thanks to his talent and sense of humor became famous around the U.S. and abroad.

The essay "Breaking the Ice" is the thoughts and recollections of the author about his youth. It starts with the question which Dave Barry got from the young reader who asked the advice how to ask the girl for a date. As a reply, the writer told about his past experience in that deal.

According to the assumption that "there was always the possibility that the girl would say no", the author believed that the guy should avoid the direct request. He humorously concluded that after such an answer he needed "go into the woods and become a bark-eating hermit whose only companions would be the gentle and understanding woodland creatures. ... the woodland creatures would shriek in cute little Chip 'n' Dale voices while raining acorns down upon my head. “You wanna DATE? HAHAHAHAHAHA.

So Dave Barry said:
"Never risk direct contact with the girl in question. Your role model should be the nuclear submarine, gliding silently beneath the ocean surface, tracking an enemy target that does not even begin to suspect that the submarine would like to date it. I spent the vast majority of 1960 keeping a girl named Judy under surveillance, maintaining a minimum distance of 50 lockers to avoid the danger that I might somehow get into a conversation with her, which could have led to disaster."

The author had a friend, Phil who was ready to help to arrange the date. "... after several thousand hours of intense discussion and planning with me, Phil approached a girl he knew named Nancy, who approached a girl named Sandy, who was a direct personal friend of Judy's and who passed the word back to Phil via Nancy that Judy would be willing to go on a date with me."

The main impression about the meeting (watching a movie in a cinema) was a tension. The author didn't feel confident, he wouldn't be able to communicate with Judy "without the assistance of Phil, Nancy, and Sandy". That feeling spread for everybody who was around. His mother who drove them to the cinema "was hideously embarrassing, had to pretend she wasn't there".

As a result of experience, the narrator gave advice for the young reader about asking the girl for a date: don't hesitate, pick up the phone and call her.

This is a link to the original text of the story:

Saturday, January 6, 2018

The Hitchhiker Radio Play by Lucille Fletcher Review

"The Hitchhiker" is a radio play written by a popular American screenwriter and novelist Lucille Fletcher. The play was extremely popular in the USA at the time when television wasn't commonly watched, up to 1950. That time families gathered together in the evenings in front of the radio as later it was for TV. They listened to radio programs and the play "Hitchhiker" became a hit for a long time.

In the beginning, the play was introduced by a warning that "I go on record at the outset of this evening's entertainment with the sober assurance that although blood may be curdled on this program none will be spilt. There's no shooting, knifing, throttling, axing or poisoning here. No clanking chains, no cobwebs, no bony and/or hairy hands appearing from secret panels or, better yet, bedroom curtains. ... I promise you we haven't got it. What we do have is a thriller."

The story started with a panic speech of the man (Ronald Adams) who said (almost cried) that "At any moment the link with life may break. This may be the last thing I ever tell on earth . . . the last night I ever see the stars. . . ."

Next part of the play was about what happened before. Ronald Adams told us about the beginning of his journey. He had to drive from New York to California to deliver the car he was driving. He started telling his story in a cheerful voice which contrasted with an introduction when his voice displayed quite uncertain, thrilled intonation. The scene of the last meeting of Ronald with his mother was played as a dialog of a very brave and energetic son with a hesitating mother who predicted the danger of this journey in general and risk of encountering a stranger on the road.

Later Ronald saw a hitchhiker the first time crossing the Brooklyn Bridge. An hour later he met him again, after that again. It happened many times, repeatedly and becoming more and more frightening. The suspense was growing. Ronald asked people on the gas station, in the restaurant on the road about hitchhikers but nobody heard of or saw them.

When the desperate driver tried to ask at night the owner of a small restaurant by the road to open the door and to give him a coffee, he got "no-answer" and suspense became almost unbearable. The audience could understand the feelings of the main character: "I got into the car again and drove on slowly. I was beginning to hate the car. If I could have found a place to stop . . . to rest a little."

Ronald was happy to meet the girl on the road. She didn't hitchhike, Ronald asked her if she wanted a ride. They had a simple conversation before Ronald saw the hitchhiker again. He saw, but the girl didn’t. She was frightened by his murmuring: "Watch for him the next time, then. Keep watching. Keep your eyes peeled on the road. He'll turn up again—maybe any minute now.". The girl decided to get out of the car, Ronald tried to stop her: "No. You can't go.", the girl screamed "Leave your hands offa me, do you hear! Leave your—"

Ronald wanted to speak to somebody who could understand him and he stopped to make a telephone call to his mother. As it was a long-distance call, the operator asked to deposit money for it, it seemed that the call would be canceled while the operators were connecting lines. The play-writer used it as another method to keep the listeners in suspense.

When the connection was made an unknown woman answered instead of Ronald's mother. She said that his mother had been in hospital after a nervous breakdown since the death of her eldest son, Ronald. "He was killed just six days ago in an automobile accident on the Brooklyn Bridge."

The sequence of events was built by the author so that the strain could be gradually increasing. There was no need in special effects like unexpected, frightening voices and sound effects, the team of that radio-show achieved their aim - they created a captivating play in suspense genre.

This is a link to the original text of the radio play:
We can find the audio on Youtube.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Caline by Kate Chopin Review

"Caline" by Kate Chopin is a short story about a girl. She lived in a rural place without any traces of civilization. This place was located near the railway and once the train stopped near her house unexpectedly.

The author described the passengers through the eyes of the little girl. The ladies "... walked awkwardly in their high-heeled boots over the rough, uneven ground, and held up their skirts mincingly. They twirled parasols over their shoulders, and laughed immoderately at the funny things which their masculine companions were saying." The passengers tried to talk with the girl but without success, because they couldn't understand her French dialect. One youngster started to draw the girl. She stood silently astonished by the unknown world which was disclosed to her for a short time.

The following days she reminisced about this event again and again. Eventually, she moved to a big city, started working as a maidservant in one family. Her first impressions of this new life were very pleasant. "Caline liked it very well, for it was pleasant, on Sunday afternoons, to stroll with the children under the great, solemn sugar sheds; or to sit upon the compressed cotton bales, watching the stately steamers, the graceful boats, and noisy little tugs that plied the waters of the Mississippi."

The mood of the girl changed quite fast if someone "... asked her again after another week if she were still pleased, she was not so sure. And again when she questioned Caline the girl turned away, and went to sit behind the big, yellow cistern, to cry unobserved. For she knew now that it was not the great city and its crowds of people she had so eagerly sought; but the pleasant-faced boy, who had made her picture that day under the mulberry tree."

The author of this story represented the social inequality, the attitude of a new generation to the benefits of being wealthy, the dissatisfaction of current level of life. Let's imagine that the girl became a part of high-level society. Would she be satisfied with her new life? For the short time - yes. But after some time ... Probably no, her natural pessimism would bring her into the similar mood. The key thing about that issue is an attitude. If a person is not grateful for the life which that person has, the feeling of satisfaction couldn't be achieved. Maybe Kate Chopin wanted to say to readers: be happy, pleased with the destiny you have ..., but it is only one interpretation of the story.

This is a link to the story:

Friday, December 22, 2017

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce Review

The short story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" by Ambrose Bierce is well known among Americans, perhaps because the occurrence which was described here refers to the history of the USA.
Ambrose Bierce wrote this story about the Civil War in the USA, the subject which was familiar to him. He was awarded 15 commendations for his braveness during the War. The story has also a controversial under-text because the main character belonged to the Confederates and the author expressed a sheer sympathy to him.

The story starts with the description of the man who was going to be executed: "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. It was attached to a stout cross-timber above his head and the slack fell to the level of his knees." The man is facing the death, every detail of execution becomes visible and essential: river, bridge, shores, soldiers.

He heard the ticking of his watches clearly. He thought “If I could free my hands, I might throw off the noose and spring into the stream. By diving I could evade the bullets and, swimming vigorously, reach the bank, take to the woods and get away home. My home, thank God, is as yet outside their lines; my wife and little ones are still beyond the invader's farthest advance.” Ambrose Bierce finished the first part of the story at the moment when the captain nodded to the sergeant to start execution.

The following part of the story described what had happened before. It started giving a brief introduction of the main character: "Peyton Farquhar was a well-to-do planter, of an old and highly respected Alabama family. Being a slave owner and like other slave owners a politician he was naturally an original secessionist and ardently devoted to the Southern cause." Ambrose Bierce wrote that introduction without accusing of Peyton Farquhar of racism, it is a controversial line of the story. Peyton was accused for possible intention to commit the diversion on Owl Creek Bridge and as we saw in the first part of the story, he faced death on that bridge.

The third, last part of the story began from the scene of a miraculous escape of Peyton. The cord broke off, he got under the water, soldiers fired but in vain, he hid in the forest, came to his lovely house, his wife met him. He thought: "Ah, how beautiful she is! He springs forward with extended arms."

The last sentence of the story tells us: "Peyton Farquhar was dead; his body, with a broken neck, swung gently from side to side beneath the timbers of the Owl Creek bridge."

Ambrose Bierce wrote the story in quite an original manner mixing the real and fantastic elements, the plot moved forward and back in time, he created the feeling of suspense for readers. The story is about war and it aims against it.

This is the link to the story:

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Transients in Arcadia by O. Henry Review

The short story "Transients in Arcadia" by O. Henry gives the readers the description of a desirable place "There is a hotel on Broadway that has escaped discovery by the summer-resort promoters. It is deep and wide and cool. Its rooms are finished in dark oak of a low temperature. Home-made breezes and deep-green shrubbery give it the delights ..."

This idealistic place is hidden from the public, only special, exclusive guests have happy opportunities to stay here. The first paragraph of this review includes the quote from O. Henry work, the author tried to highlight the uniqueness of the place, so did I at the beginning of the second paragraph.

What makes the master of literature different? It is a very rich vocabulary and the literary style. Reading the O. Henry description we draw in our imagination the bright picture of the world of the story and their characters. Here is a description of the main character of the story - a very welcomed guest of the hotel:

"Madame Beaumont was a guest such as the Hotel Lotus loved. She possessed the fine air of the élite, tempered and sweetened by a cordial graciousness that made the hotel employees her slaves. Bell-boys fought for the honor of answering her ring; the clerks, but for the question of ownership, would have deeded to her the hotel and its contents; the other guests regarded her as the final touch of feminine exclusiveness and beauty that rendered the entourage perfect."

That very respectable guest met another upper-class visitor of the hotel who registered as a Harold Farrington. After Harold Farmington picked up a dropped handkerchief and returned it to madam Beaumont, they started to enjoy being together. They would talk about traveling comparing some luxurious world's resorts.

In the last evening, before Mme Beaumont left the hotel, she said Mr. Farmington that her time of staying in the hotel up and she needs to come back to her work, that her real name is Mamie Siviter and she works in the store here in New York.

"Harold Farrington listened to the recital of the Lotus's loveliest guest with an impassive countenance." He said that his vacation had finished too, he also works as a clerk, he lives in New York. Here is the last paragraph of the story:
"At the door of the elevator Farrington took his leave, and Madame Beaumont made her last ascent. But before they reached the noiseless cage he said: "Just forget that 'Harold Farrington,' will you?—McManus is the name—James McManus. Some call me Jimmy."
"Good-night, Jimmy," said Madame."

A happy end of the story made unnoticeable the theme of poorness, the wishes of two main characters to climb up the social ladder (that wish has nothing to do with arrogance). The positive mood of the story is typical for the classic of American literature -  O. Henry. Let's enjoy the story, here is the link to the original text:

Friday, December 15, 2017

Is He Living or Is He Dead? by Mark Twain Review

The story "Is He Living or Is He Dead?" by Mark Twain has a connection with the real name of a famous person - the artist Francois Millet. Did it have a connection with the real life of the artist? It is not clear, probably not.

The story starts on the French resort Mentone where one holidaymaker told a story which happened at the time of his youth. The narrator told about three young artists (one of them was the narrator himself) who had once lived together in a small village. They drew paintings, that were fine works but few of them were sold. The friend came to the point of complete absence of money, all the shops in the village refused to give them the goods on credit. In that crucial moment, one of them (Carl) started to make a statement. He said that "the merit of many a great artist has never been acknowledged until after he was starved and dead" and suggested to do so by pretending as if somebody of them had that fate.

After hot debates, friends to agree, Francois Millet was chosen for this role. Here how the narrator described the scene of the first selling:

'" ... I began to sketch a villa in the outskirts of a big town--because I saw the proprietor standing on an upper veranda. He came down to look on--I thought he would. I worked swiftly, intending to keep him interested. Occasionally he fired off a little ejaculation of approbation, and by-and-by he spoke up with enthusiasm, and said I was a master!
'I put down my brush, reached into my satchel, fetched out a Millet, and pointed to the cipher in the corner. I said, proudly:
'"I suppose you recognise that? Well, he taught me! I should think I ought to know my trade!"
'The man looked guiltily embarrassed, and was silent. I said sorrowfully:
'"You don't mean to intimate that you don't know the cipher of Francois Millet!"
'Of course he didn't know that cipher; but he was the gratefullest man you ever saw, just the same, for being let out of an uncomfortable place on such easy terms. He said:
'"No! Why, it is Millet's, sure enough! I don't know what I could have been thinking of. Of course I recognise it now.

The project had a great success, the real Francois Millet was present at his funeral carrying the coffin with a wax figure. The price for the pictures of Francois Millet soared, they became rich and kept this secret for years. Only at the moment of telling this story, the narrator disclosed it. He said that another guest of this hotel, who was an old, retired, and very rich silk manufacturer from Lyons, was Francois Millet.

As a title for his story, Mark Twain chose the question "Is He Living or Is He Dead?" If we think about it from the viewpoint of collectors of Francois Millet's art who bought the paintings of an artist with a tragic fate, the answer wouldn't be obvious ...

This is the link to the text of the story:

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Reunion by John Cheever Review

The story "Reunion" written by an American author John Cheever is really short. Despite this format, the author managed to present the process of changing the point of view, the attitude towards the life of the main character.

It is a recollection of one meeting which the young man (the boy) had with his father. His parent divorced a few years ago, the boy had the transitway through New York where his father lived. The rhythm and the positive mood of the narrator had been kept by the author from the beginning to the end of the story but the attitude of the boy towards that meeting changed dramatically.

In the beginning of the story, the boy anticipated the coming meeting: "I felt that he was my father, my flesh and blood, my future and my doom". When they met, the anticipation changed into admiration: "I hoped that someone would see us together. I wished that we could be photographed. I wanted some record of our having been together."

The father suggested going for lunch to the nearest restaurant and where he started to conduct himself very rudely. "... he shouted. “Chop-chop.” Then he clapped his hands.... I have a whistle that is audible only to the ears of old waiters. Now, take out your little pad and your little pencil and see if you can get this straight: two Beefeater Gibsons. Repeat after me: two Beefeater Gibsons." The waiter asked (in fact insisted) the father and his son to leave the restaurant. The same happened in the next restaurant and next ...

All tragedy of the story was described in the last line:
"Goodbye, Daddy," I said, and I went down the stairs and got my train, and that was the last time I saw my father. "

Was it a tragedy of the young man who was disappointed by the behavior of his father? I think - no. The story conveyed to readers the sorrow of misunderstanding, the loneliness of two people who lost the relationships and even part of themselves ...

This is a link to the text: