Monday, December 31, 2018

The Fall of Edward Barnard by William Somerset Maugham Review

The short story 'The Fall of  Edward Barnard' is written by the British author William Somerset Maugham. The language of this work is rich and very understandable. As many of Maugham's works, the story includes a strong moral message hidden beneath the actions in the plot.

The story began with thoughts of a young man, Bateman, who was coming back to Chicago from the Pacific island of Tahiti where his friend, Edward, lived. He needed to tell Edward's fiancee, Isabel, about something that happened on the island. The writer disclosed it only in the second part of the story.

The characters in the first part of the story behaved according to the rules and moral principles of the upper class. Edward and Bateman are in love with Isabel. Seeing Isabel's attitude toward Edward, Bateman accepted their love. "He would never marry. He would be godfather to the children of Edward and Isabel, and many years later when they were both dead he would tell Isabel's daughter how long, long ago he had loved her mother. Bateman's eyes were veiled with tears when he pictured this scene to himself."

Soon after Isabel and Edward’s engagement, Edward's father lost his fortune and committed suicide. As a means to support Edward, the friend of his father offered Edward a position with his firm in Tahiti. Edward accepted it in the hope of setting the basis for their future life. Before he left Chicago, Isabel's father talked with him about Isabel's uncle, Arnold Jackson, who lives in Tahiti.  Isabel's father said to Edward, "My advice to you is to give him a wide berth, but if you do hear anything about him Mrs. Longstaffe and I would be very glad if you'd let us know."

Arnold left the US. He wrote a letter to Isabel every month, twenty-four letters for two years, but he never mentioned when he was going come back to Chicago. Once Bateman had a conversation with the owner of the company where Arnold worked. He knew that Edward left his job nearly a year ago. The management of the company concluded that he was 'lazy and incompetent'. Neither Bateman nor Isabel could believe in the company’s judgment of Edward, Bateman admitted. ‘He seems to have lost that high seriousness which I admired so much in him.' Bateman decided to visit Tahiti on the way from New Zealand (where his father had an agency) to Chicago.

Bateman came to Tahiti. Maugham included many details in the story, among these were the negative features of Bateman's character, which remained latent early on. During the conversation with local people, Bateman discovered an element of his personality which he wasn’t aware of before, "A touch of hauteur involuntarily entered into his manner."

He met his friend Edward in the shop, where he worked as a shop assistant. Edward established a good relationship with Isabel's uncle Arnold. Bateman was invited to Mr. Arnold’s mansion for a dinner with his family. Bateman felt humiliated being in the presence of these people (Edward, Mr. Arnold, his wife, and daughter).  Everything that he saw while in Tahiti (Edward as a shop assistant, the impudence of Arnold Jackson who dared to invite him for dinner, etc.) was beyond the bounds of his understanding.

Edward, Arnold Jackson, and Mr. Arnold’s daughter greeted Bateman with sincere kindliness. Edward said to him, “Don't be grieved, old friend, I haven't failed. I've succeeded.” Once Edward became serious, they spoke about Isabel. Edward said that he loved Isabel, but his life was undergoing changes that would make it difficult for them to maintain their relationship. Therefore, he would prefer to end their engagement.

After Bateman told Isabel about his trip to Tahiti, she said:
"Poor Edward, he's nobody's enemy but his own. He was a dear, nice fellow, but there was something lacking in him, I suppose it was backbone. I hope he'll be happy.' She slipped the ring off her finger and placed it on the table."

Eventually, Bateman made a proposal for Isabel to marry him. "She gave him her lovely lips to kiss. And as he held her in his arms he had a vision of the works of the Hunter Motor Traction and Automobile Company growing in size ... And she ... sighed with happiness, for she thought of the exquisite house she would have, ... ‘Poor Edward,' she sighed. "

Maugham didn't express his attitude to the choices of Bateman and Edward directly, but the irony of the name of the story is clear. Sincere feelings of people can't be connected with money. The easy-going character of Edward seems to lead him in the right direction where people meet their happiness.

This is a link to the text of the story:

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Riddle by Thomas McGuane Review

The short story Riddle by Thomas McGuane was published in the respectable magazine The New Yorker. The audio of the story was recorded for the rubric 'The Writer's Voice'.  

The title 'Riddle' is very suitable for this story. The idea of this narration is not clear. The author described a sequence of events which occurred to him. He recollected the time of being in a small  American town. The narrator witnessed there a scene of meeting the old man and the boy when the boy called out to the old man “Jack! Hey, Jack!,”. The author wrote, "I don't know if I can put my finger on it after all this time, but the excitement or joy, or whatever it was that these two experienced when they saw each other, has never left me.".

Next part of the story took place in that town many years later. The narrator saw an arguing man and woman. He went out from his car, his car was stolen, and another woman drove him to town. He had a conversation with this woman and in the police station. Ooh! So many actions which were not coherent!

After reading this story, I tried to find on the Internet the comments about the plot of this story. Other readers appreciated the literary style but they also faced the riddle of the main idea of this story. The vivid descriptions of everyday routine and the mystery of vague meaning made this story quite memorable.

This is the link to the story.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

War by Luigi Pirandello Review

The short story 'War' was written by an Italian dramatist, novelist, poet and short story writer Luigi Pirandello. He was awarded in 1934 the Nobel Prize in Literature for his contribution to the genre of drama.

The story represents also this genre. Basically, the author expressed the feelings of parents who lost their sons in the war. The plot of the story was built on conversations passengers (the parents of the soldiers) on the train had.

They argued about the attitude of children towards parents and of parents towards children. One passenger expressed his vision of relationships:

"We belong to them but they never belong to us.  And when they reach twenty they are exactly what we were at their age.  We too had a father and mother, but there were so many other things as well...girls, cigarettes, illusions, new ties...and the Country ..."

The story has a dramatic, tragic ending when the woman, who was desperately worried about her son, asked the man, who expressed patriotic ideas,"... is your son really dead?". The last sentence of the story revealed his sincere feelings, "His face contracted, became horribly distorted, then he snatched in haste a handkerchief from his pocket and, to the amazement of everyone, broke into harrowing, heart-breaking, uncontrollable sobs."

This is a link to the text of the story:

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Cecilia Awakened by Tessa Hadley Review

The short story 'Cecilia Awakened' by Tessa Hadley represents the idea of changes which occur at the moment between idealistic past and how the present is.

According to the plot, the family (mother, father and their fifteen-year-old daughter Cecilia) from the UK was visiting Florence during their summer vacation. They loved the arts, they enjoyed walking to museums. That time was different. It is noticeable that during all days of being there Cecilia was in tension.

Cecilia realized that local people don't like them.  This dislike may be directed to British tourists or tourists in general). Local people communicate with them but they do it because it is their business. It spoilt for Cecilia the atmosphere of the beautiful Italian province.

In the introduction, the author described the attitude of this family toward social life. They are introverts, they prefer to stay home, their circle of communication is restricted. The climax of the story, the moment of realizing the reality, reflected the controversy between the inner and external life of the person.

Looking back at the middle of the story, we can see that Cecilia exaggerated her hostile attitude toward people. There are no reasons for local people to have a special, warm feeling for tourists, they could intrude somebody's privacy, they have different customs.

Some readers commenting on this story made remarks about a not completed ending. The narration was interrupted without precisely written conclusion. Perhaps the writer finished the story without summarizing the main idea deliberately. The right to interpret the story left readers with mixed feelings.

Here is the link to the text of the story:

Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Gun by Mark Haddon Review

The short story 'The Gun' by Mark Haddon was included in the collection of stories under the title ‘The O. Henry Prize Stories 2014.' The works of O. Henry were selected by the publisher because of their clear plots with simple characters and humor.

The origins of this award were when O'Henry’s friends gathered together after his death. In honor of his memory, they decided to regularly select the most remarkable short stories. During this time, there were nine editors of these series.

'The Gun' is a story about two boys who had a dangerous and criminal adventure. One boy found the gun. They were not able to cope with the intense emotions that overwhelmed them. The boys were excited by the power that they gained. Mark Haddon has an impressive ability to involve reader into tense, dynamic events which occurred in the story. It seems that two boys were together only by chance, they are together and they are apart of each other. The author brought the characters so close to each other that the actions of the story seem to have happened with us.

Here we can find the text of the story (after making a trial subscription to the magazine):

Sunday, November 25, 2018

A Bad Business by Anton Chekhov Review

The short story 'A Bad Business' written by Russian classical writer Anton Chekhov is a ghost story comprised of mostly dialog. The author’s method of using dialog for presenting the story is quite unusual and remarkable. It could be a subject to literary discussion among with critics.

It is unusual for Chekhov's works that the genre of the story belongs to ghost stories. The plot took place in the cemetery, where a stranger asked the watchman to show him the way to the mill. The stranger seemed to be surprised that he appeared in the graveyard. The bright and distinctive style of the author makes the narration very tangible. For example, the text says

"O-o-oh . . . Queen of Heaven!" there is a sound of an old man sighing. "I see nothing, my good soul, nothing. Oh the darkness, the darkness! You can't see your hand before your face, it is dark, friend. O-o-oh. . ."

The stranger pretended he was weak and helpless to the end of the story when he said that he was a dead man. The feeling of terror captured the watchman. He left the graveyard alive. The burning church, it was what he saw outside. It looked like something terrible was ahead ...

Here is the link to the text of the story:

Sunday, November 18, 2018

The Blue Stones Allegory by Isak Dineson Review

The story 'The Blue Stones' represents a genre of allegory. The allegory includes two levels: a literal and symbolic. The literal level is about ordinary life, everyday routine and so on. The symbolic level represents the moral of the story.

The story was written by Isak Dineson. She was born in Denmark and spent most of her life in British East Africa, now Kenya. Dinesen is best known for her autobiographical narration published in 1937 'Out of Africa'. Another famous book, 'Seven Gothic Tales' includes the stories set in Europe hundreds of years ago.

The story 'The Blue Stones' is short and it seems simple. The skipper named his ship after his wife, "He had the figurehead of it beautifully carved, just like her, and the hair of it gilt". His wife was jealous about his passion, she even thought that he liked the ship more than her.

During one adventure he helped the king of savages and he was bestowed by the two precious blue stones. As such, it seemed as if his ship had found eyes. The wife was jealous about these stones so much that she secretly replaced them with false stones and kept the original ones at home.

Soon after that, the wife found that her eyesight was growing worse, and she could not see to thread a needle. She was going blind; she cried, "I should have the glass taken out, and the jewels put back." She wanted to do it but it was not possible. This sailing was last for her husband. She got a letter from the Consul of Portugal, that the ship had wrecked, "And it was a very strange thing, the Consul wrote, that in broad daylight she had run straight into a tall rock, rising out of the sea."

Every reader could make their own conclusion about the moral of the story and maybe find some parallels according to their own life's experience.

Here is the text of the story:

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Ambivalence by Ben Greenman --- Review

The short story 'Ambivalence' was written by contemporary American writer Ben Greenman (he is known under this nickname). In the story, the narrator talks about the night before his marriage.

The girl who was invited by the narrator for this evening was skinny. She wasn't attractive and the narrator was satisfied that he could control his feelings for her. She asked about a number of historical books which were on the shelves in his flat. They belonged to his fiance, he answered. The girl expressed her interest in history. She talked about her ancestor who partly decoded the secret code (known as the Zimmermann Telegram) which was sent by the German army before World War I.

She was an artist, and she brought with herself some drafts. She asked him about the color on one of her paintings. It was blue. Another one was also blue. She commented, "isn't that ridiculous? Two colors which are so exceptional, but they're regarded the identical. Colors are like a code, too.'

When the girl left his apartment, the narrator found the book about the Zimmermann Telegram. He read a few paragraphs that he didn't understand. His future wife had signed her name on the front of this book. Here are the last few sentences from this story:
"He shut the book hard, like a trap. He was trying to capture his ambivalence or kill it. Three days later, he watched his wife sign her name again, on a marriage certificate, beneath a paragraph he understood completely. The ink and sky were blue."

There are many signs of symbolism in this story: coincidences in interests to a history of two women, the secret code which was partly disclosed, the vague meaning of colors. The main character suffered becoming aware of his ambivalence but he couldn't overcome it.

This a link to the text of the story:

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

From The General History of Virginia Historical Narrative by John Smith Review

The historical narrative 'The General History of Virginia' was written by one of the first English' settlers in North America, John Smith. The book represents the earliest work of American literature. The author was hired by the English Virginia Company, a group of investors hoping for huge profit from their New World venture.

John Smith described in this book his adventures in the Jamestown colony in 1607 and the continuing years. This narration evoked varies reactions among historians because it wasn't clear whether the true events were described or whether the author exaggerated his role in the life of the colony.

It is remarkable that John Smith used the narration in the voice of the third person. This literary method (using the voice of the third person) gives readers the feeling that it is told by an objective observer.  Smith used the narrator to portray himself and his role in the events.

The narration is quite difficult to read; the sentences in the story are long and complicated. The historical meaning of this work is essential because it was written by a contemporary of those events. The one sentence from the narration below represents some features of the literary style which were mentioned in this review.  It also includes some historical details such as arrows and so on. Here is the sentence:

"Smith little dreaming of that accident, being got to the marshes at the river's head twenty miles in the desert, had his two men [Robinson and Emry] slain (as is supposed) sleeping by the canoe, while himself by fowling sought them victual, who finding he was beset with 200 savages, two of them he slew, still defending himself with the aid of the savage his guide, whom he bound to his arms with his garters and used him as a buckler, yet he was shot in his thigh a little, and had many arrows that stuck in his clothes but no great hurt, till at last they took him prisoner... "

He escaped from the Powhatans prison and according to his version described in a final edition of his memoirs, he was rescued by the help of Powhatan's daughter Pocahontas. It may have been an attempt to cash in on Pocahontas's later fame. She visited England in 1616 and became a celebrity. At the time of Smith's imprisonment, she was only ten years old. That part of the story raises doubts.

Despite the controversies which were mentioned above, the story gives the objective view of the epoch. It corresponds with the title ‘The General History of Virginia'.

Here is the link to the text of the story:

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Review of His Masterpiece by Andrew Barton `Banjo' Paterson

The short story 'His Masterpiece' was written by famous Australian poet and writer, Andrew Barton 'Banjo' Paterson.  The works of the author are well known in Australia. His song 'Matilda' is considered as part of the folklore in Australia--a kind of unofficial anthem of the country. Even the coin in Australia has the picture of Andrew Barton 'Banjo' Paterson on it.

The plot of the story is simple. One stockman (in Australia it is a person who looks after livestock), tells the story that happened to him in the Northern Territory. This region is very difficult to access. People who lived there were respected by others. All stories were taken at face value by people who had never been in that area. As the author said, "When two of them meet, however, they are not fools enough to cut down quotations and spoil the market; they lie in support of each other and make all other bushmen feel mean and pitiful and inexperienced."

The main character told the story how he coped with a problem when a huge livestock of sheers went out of his control. They were frightened by the possum (it is an informal name of the opossum - a tree-dwelling Australasian marsupial that typically has a prehensile tail). The narrator caught them on the old horse while riding through the bushes. For the readers it didn't look as an extraordinary deed, but for the listeners of this story - the stockmen, it was surprising.

The author presented a contrast of the simplicity of the story with a pretentious title, "His Masterpiece". It was made deliberately to present the beauty and meaning of life of ordinary people, the inhabitants of Australia.

The language and vocabulary of the story convey some specific Australian features. All together, they created the atmosphere of the place and time. His masterpiece is the ability to survive in a wild Australian nature and to cope with everyday difficulties.


Here is the link to the text of the story:

Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Man in the Brown Coat by Sherwood Anderson Review

'The Man in the Brown Coat' by Sherwood Anderson is about a man who grew up in a poor family and who achieved a success in his life: he writes historical books and he owns a house.

The story was written with the use of very short sentences. This literary method created a feeling that the main character's thoughts were expressed in short phrases. This impression increased because the author combined his sentences with the quotes from typical historical narrations like "Napoleon went down into a battle riding on a horse".

The narrator writes about his wife. She has gone out of the house and she does not know that her every little thought is known by the narrator. He hears the voice of her mind. It can express fear when she says the words of courage. Very often her true fillings are opposite from what she says. He likes her but he is not able to break the barrier in their relationship.

The title of the story 'The Man in the Brown Coat' represented the main idea of the story: the loneliness of the person behind the barriers which he created. There are no big efforts to step out of the space which he made around himself. The controversy of private and social life was displayed by Sherwood Anderson in this very short story.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

How To Talk To Girls At Parties by Neil Gaiman Review

The story 'How To Talk To Girls At Parties' by Neil Gaiman was nominated in 2007 for the Hugo Award. It means that the story was recognized as one of the best examples of contemporary sci-fiction work. The story includes some elements of sci-fiction, although the elements of fantasy and comics are more noticeable.

Primarily, the story expressed the feelings of young boys toward aliens for them: girls of their age. The plot is presented as a narration of memories which the main character recollected: what happened thirty years ago when he was sixteen.

Two boys were going to participate in the party.  The narrator felt very uncomfortable in communication with girls and he tried to fix it. He thought about girls the same as aliens who came to the earth from another planet. He thought about the controversy of awareness since they grew up together and they became so different. Let's look at how it was written in the story:

"... when you start out as kids you're just boys and girls, going through time at the same speed, and you're all five, or seven, or eleven, together. And then one day there's a lurch and the girls just sort of sprint off into the future ahead of you, and they know all about everything, and they have periods and breasts and makeup and God-only-knew-what-else -- for I certainly didn't. The diagrams in biology textbooks were no substitute for being, in a very real sense, young adults."

As it appeared in the story two boys mistakenly came to another party where they met real aliens. It was becoming gradually clear, the girls there were really strange: one girl had six fingers on her hand, the next girl spoke in a very vague manner and so on.

It is remarkable what one girl said about poetry, "We knew that it would soon be over, and so we put it all into a poem, to tell the universe who we were, and why we were here, and what we said and did and thought and dreamed and yearned for. We wrapped our dreams in words and patterned the words so that they would live forever, unforgettable. Then we sent the poem as a pattern of flux, to wait in the heart of a star, beaming out its message in pulses and bursts and fuzzes across the electromagnetic spectrum, until the time when, on worlds a thousand sun systems distant, the pattern would be decoded and read, and it would become a poem once again."

The metaphorical, even philosophical meaning differentiates this story and makes it universal. There is a film with the same title based on the plot of the story. Production of this movie focused on the youth movement; punk in this case. Every reader can find in the story something remarkable. It is why the story was recognized as a winner of reader's sympathies.

This is a link to the text of the story: