Book reviews

World’s Great Short Stories, edited by M. E. Speare (World Publishing, 1942)

Fight cancel culture zealots!  Read short story masterpieces from dead white male American and European authors.

I labored over the 334 pages of this anthology for weeks, not because the stories were so lugubrious that I had to whip out the dictionary or because I’m a slow reader.  The stories were didactic, yes, in the extremely positive way of teaching some beautiful truths about human life and expressing those truths in beautiful language.  (It is most unfortunate that the connotation of “didactic” is negative in today’s culture, which despises anything old—“old” being any tweet which has an age of one hour or more.)

Consider the range of topics from these dead white male American and European masters of the short story:

Steinbeck’s “The Promise”: a story about a mare who had to be killed in order for her colt to survive birth.  Issue to resolve: choice of life over death.

Saki’s “Tobermory”: a cat discloses secrets of the humans in its world.  Comedic, yet pertinent: why don’t we humans just say what we mean?

Benét’s “The Devil and Daniel Webster”: Daniel Webster wins his case, protecting Jabez Stone from going to Hell.  Webster convinces a jury of devils that men take pride in being men, even with our faults.  The devil recounts that he was present since America was discovered.  Antifa domestic terrorists and the Democratic politicians who support them and cancel culture zealots: you lose.  Benét already admitted that the United States may not be a perfect nation, but we’re becoming one.  Besides, your efforts to destroy property and erase history accomplishes nothing.  Idiots….

Hemingway’s “My Old Man”: a pathetic story (that is, a story filled with pathos) of a son who loved his jockey father who won fixed races.  Although the father is killed in a race, the son still admires him.  How stupid some fathers can be!

Wodehouse’s “The Custody of the Pumpkin”: a cute story about a British earl who resists his son marrying an American woman, presumed to be beneath him in social class.  The earl relents when he learns that the father-in-law has more than $9 million.  Moreover, his prized pumpkin wins a vegetable show.  Vapid people then, vapid people now who think that money cures all.

Maugham’s “Red”: a story of a young man, Red, who falls in love with a native South Pacific woman, Sally.  Red was kidnapped and presumed lost at sea.  Meanwhile, Sally marries Neilson.  Red returns years later, an old fat man; Sally also grows fat.  Moreover, Neilson no longer loves her.  A memorable line: “The tragedy of love is indifference” (104).

Lardner’s “Champion”: a story of a dishonest, money-grubbing boxer who cares nothing for his handicapped brother, his mother, his wife, or his child.  The public just thinks he’s a hero.  Disability rights activists can find a friend in Lardner long before disability rights became an issue because abortion-supporting people and Nazi eugenicists thought that the handicapped were unworthy of life.

Twain’s “A Mediaeval Romance”: a story about a woman, Lord Conrad, disguised as a man because her father envied another’s ducal throne.  The Lady Constance falls in love with Conrad, but Conrad rejects him because they obviously can’t marry.  For her revenge, the scorned Constance gets pregnant by someone else.  At her trial, she accuses Conrad as the father.  He either must confess the truth that he is really a woman and be executed for falsely sitting on the ducal throne, since no woman was allowed to do that, or renounce his claim to the duchy which his father envied.  The narrator doesn’t resolve the dilemma, leaving it to the reader.  And some think that transgenderism is a new idea in the world!  Twain thought of it first.  Fools….

Bunin’s “Sunstroke”: a story recounting the feelings of a military man who had an adulterous affair with an unnamed woman who is married and has a child.  He would never see the little whore again, yet he suffers emotionally from his adulterous sin.  Fool!  She used you, yet you yearn for her?  Double fool….

Ewald’s “My Little Boy”: an irreligious father instills general ethical principles in his son and fears that his son will become contaminated with society’s ideas when the child eventually must attend school.  This father reads too much like a copter parent.  Besides, his hostility to religious ideas clearly shows how backward he is.

Pirandello’s “The Fly”: a ghoulish story of a fly infecting a man with glanders, which will eventually kill him.  He was to marry the same day as his cousin, who was also bitten by a fly and presumably will die from the same disease.  An episode suitable for The Twilight Zone.

Parker’s “The Waltz”: delightfully funny story of a woman who gives her honest thoughts while uttering vapid and socially-correct statements while dancing with a bumbling man.  Applicability to our own society: distrust what anyone, especially Joe Biden, says.

Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw”: masterly story of a monkey’s paw giving an old couple three wishes.  The first wish is for 200 pounds to eliminate their debt, obtained at the cost of their son dying at work, mangled in his factory’s machinery; the second wish resurrects the son, without specifying that he would be made whole; the third wish restores him to death.  Exciting denouement!

Harte’s “The Postmistress of Laurel Run”: intriguing story of a postmistress who protects a man, a fellow postmaster, from being fired for absconding with government money.  The inspector who is on his case knows that she helped the postmaster not only restore the stolen money, but also escape prosecution.  Feminists would have a challenge justifying this woman’s action based on heart instead of brains.

Zweig’s “The Invisible Collection”: a story full of pathos; a blind man shows his collection of prints to an art dealer, all of which were sold so that his family could survive during Weimer Germany’s hyperinflation.  The art dealer consents to the fraud because the old man cherished his collection.  Contemporary reader, would you consent to a deception to preserve an elderly person’s mental state?

Maupassant’s “Two Friends”: a story of two French friends during the Franco-Prussian War who are shot and killed for not disclosing the password which allowed them to fish in their favorite place.  That’s the test of friendship, as Jesus said.

Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum”: classic tale of terror, a man condemned by the Inquisition suffers torture designed to force him into a pit filled with hundreds of rats.  The ending is a deus ex machina as he is saved by French forces who invaded Toledo.  Reminds me of Stalinist, Nazi, and Democratic torture tactics.

Gorky’s “Twenty-Six and One”: a story of 26 men who slave away at a basement bakery, which is more like a dungeon, and who revere a woman who obviously disdains them.  They idolize her but turn on her when they realize she’s just an ordinary slut, falling to the affections of a boastful soldier who must likely got into her pants.  The little whore.  The word “contemptuously” used often, and that’s what we should feel for that woman and her skanky self.

Stevenson’s “Sire de Malétroit’s Door”: a young soldier in medieval France enters a house where he is trapped into either marrying a wicked uncle’s niece or be hanged.  He eventually falls in love with her, and they decide to marry.  Ah, love!  Hopefully, they made many babies together, all of whom are faithful Catholics, unlike the fraud @JoeBiden, Nancy Pelosi, and other useless Democrats of their ilk.  Oh…sorry…mi dispiace.  Everything isn’t political (is it?)

France’s “Our Lady’s Juggler”: a wonderfully simple and pious story of a monk, “a stupid fellow” (396), whose gift to the Virgin Mary is his juggling skill.  She honors him, though, by wiping the sweat from his brow to the amazement of his fellow monks.  Except for persons hostile to religion, Catholicism especially, who could not love this happy ending?

O. Henry’s “The Cop and the Anthem”: Soapy yearns to be jailed for the winter in New York.  After several unsuccessful tries to get arrested, he decides to recover his lost ambition and be a productive man.  At that point in his resolution, he is arrested for vagrancy and gets his wish of three months in jail, long enough to be out of the New York winter.  Irony at its best.

Balzac’s “The Mysterious Mansion”: another story of a whorish wife who asserts that her lover was not hiding in her bedroom’s closet.  The husband walls it up, the lover dies, and the husband exacts sweet revenge on her adulterous whorish body.  Sinister laugh here! 

Dickens’ “’Dr. Manette’s Manuscript’”: Dr. Manette’s letter, recounting his involvement with the Marquis St. Evrémonde, who impregnated a peasant woman, even though he was married and had a child, functions significantly in Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.  The ending of the novel colors this story with sadness because we all know how many people were killed during the disastrous French Revolution.

Daudet’s “The Last Lesson”: story of a French school forced to teach students German.  M. Hamel’s “Vive la France!”, written on the blackboard, is his last bit of patriotism before the last class to be taught in French is dismissed (334).

Thankfully, cancel culture zealots, masters at destruction, can’t touch these creations.  Besides, if you’re bored with the woke NFL, read these stories.  Their ideas last longer than the “fame” of a touchdown which would yield no benefit to your life.

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