Eleven months later, and after trying at least a half dozen collections, I can tell you, it wasn't as simple as that. I tried Amy Bloom, Anthony Doerr, Alice Munroe, and Jhumpa Lahiri, but abandoned all of them after just a few pages because of their common thread of infidelity. Seriously, I was not interested in reading a collection of a dozen stories about infidelity, no matter how well-written or thought-provoking they were .
I began to wonder if it was possible to write a short story without infidelity or if that was a qualification for getting published. I had two other options: a thick volume of Jack London stories that would have taken me the rest of the year to finish or Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling (which I read to the boys over the summer). The obvious choice should have been to just count Just So Stories since I could check it off right then and there and move on with my life.
But this is where you're going to see my Upholder Tendency coming through loud and clear. When I read Just So Stories to the boys, I intended to use it to fulfill my "read a children's classic" goal. In fact, I never gave a thought to it being a collection of short stories (even though, of course, that's exactly what it is). Additionally, when I made the goal to read a short stories collections, my intent was to get a feel for what the genre was like and read a popular, well-known collection. Even though I was the one making the rules, I didn't want to fall back on Just So Stories because it was the "easy" choice.
But after trying five other collections, I was about to do just that. I was definitely getting a feel for the genre, and I was beginning to think I was not cut out for short stories.
And then, someone, somewhere referenced Saki and The Unrest-Cure. I wish I could remember how I found out about it because I would love to personally thank whoever it was. I loved these stories, and, as it turned out, they were exactly what I was looking for all along.
Saki is the pen name of Hector Hugh Munro. He was born in 1870 and lived for most of his life in England before being killed during WWI. I'd never heard of Saki before picking up this book, but he was actually somewhat of an authority on the short story. Without meaning to, really just out of desperation, I picked up the kind of collection I had been wanting.
This particular collection is comprised of stories from five previously published collections. I liked getting a broad view of Saki's style. If I had to use three words to describe him, witty, sardonic, and morbid would all come to mind. I am not all that familiar with British humor, but several of Mike's family members are, and I have a feeling they would love these stories (if they haven't already discovered them, which they probably have). I'm guessing he would seem similar to P.G. Wodehouse, although that's an author I have yet to read.
Anyway, these stories were short, funny, and almost always involved some unexpected twist at the end.
For example, one of my favorite stories (and I guess one of his most popular ones) was "The Open Window." In it, Mr. Framton Nuttel has come to call on Mrs. Sappleton. He has just moved into the neighborhood and is seeking to become acquainted with his neighbors. Mrs. Sappleton's niece answers the door and entertains him while they are waiting. She confides to Mr. Nuttel that the drawing room window is open because her aunt is waiting for her husband to come home . . . he disappeared three years ago. She paints this sad and vivid and actually quite horrifying picture of her slightly insane aunt. Mr. Nuttel feels quite sorry about the whole situation, but his sympathy turns to terror when the aunt enters the drawing room and says, "Here they are at last! Just in time for tea." Mr. Nuttel can see three figures walking towards the open window, but he doesn't stick around to meet them. He bolts out the door, and the niece accounts for his strange behavior by coming up with an elaborate tale to match the one she just told him. The story ends, "Romance at short notice was her specialty."
All of them had that same slightly irreverent, sarcastic quality, and I really loved them. Here are a few other favorite lines:
- This from Egbert to his wife, Lady Anne, whom he's trying to smooth over a quarrel with: "My remark at lunch had a purely academic application," he announced; "you seem to put an unnecessarily personal significance to it."
- "Susan Mebberley was a charming woman, but she was also an aunt."
- "My aunt never lunches," said Clovis; "she belongs to the National Anti-Luncheon League, which is doing quite a lot of good work in a quiet, unobtrusive way. A subscription of half a crown per quarter entitles you to go without ninety-two luncheons."
- "The aunt of Mrs. Greyes declared afterwards that she found herself subconsciously repeating 'The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold' under her breath, and she was generally believed."
With 2016 just around the corner, I've been thinking about the reading goals I want to make for the year. "Read a short stories collection" will not be making the cut this time. However, if that's going to be one of your goals, I can save you a lot of time and trouble and decision: Just read this one. You're welcome.
I'd love to hear your own experiences with short stories in the comments. Did I abandon some of the other collections too quickly? Have you read anything by Saki before?