Posts Tagged ‘Short Stories’

the rendezvous other stories daphne du maurier 001The Rendezvous and other stories by Daphne du Maurier ~ 1980. This edition: Pan, 1981. Paperback. ISBN: 0-330-26554-7. 234 pages.

My rating: The first and last stories in this otherwise rather mild collection elevate my rating to an overall 7/10. Otherwise, probably not more than a 5, or maybe a 6. All are worth reading, but most are not quite top-of-the-line for this particular author.

In the Preface, the author briefly explains her inspirations, and mentions that these stories show her development as a writer. I think a nice addition to this collection would have been dates of writing or of original publication; this would have added much to my own enjoyment as a long-time Daphne du Maurier reader.

*****

Some excellent, some not so much in this 1980 collection of short stories from throughout the author’s long career. All are very well written; the “less excellent” ones are described as such only in comparison to this author’s absolutely brilliant “best”.

  • No Motive ~ Why would a sweet-natured, happily married, expectant mother fatally shoot herself ten minutes after cheerfully ordering new garden furniture? One of the longer stories in this collection, and nicely plotted out. 7/10.
  • Panic ~ A casual love affair goes terribly wrong. Fabulously atmospheric, but ultimately slight. The dénouement comes as no surprise. 5/10.
  • The Supreme Artist ~ An aging actor gives a most superb performance off stage, and comes abruptly to an intimation of his own mortality. 6/10.
  • Adieu Sagesse ~ Two men from the opposite ends of the social spectrum plot their escape from tedious lives. Loved this one; the right people “win”. 8/10.
  • Fairy Tale ~ A slight and unlikely snippet of a story of a ne’er-do-well husband and his adoring wife. “Fairy tale”, indeed! 3/10.
  • The Rendezvous ~ I expected much from the title story of this collection. A successful author who has spent his life in observation finally arranges an “experience” for himself, only to be disappointed at every turn. In general, well done. But I wanted something just a little bit more. 6/10.
  • La Sainte-Vierge ~ Innocence and corruption. A snippet of a story, but very evocative of both. 5/10.
  • Leading Lady ~ Cherchez la femme… Another theatrical setting. Daphne used her eyes and ears well when about the backstage world. 6/10.
  • Escort ~ A maritime ghost story set in World War II. It’s been done before, but this attempt is reasonably decent. Nice detail on board the ghost ship. 5/10.
  • The Lover ~ A damning portrait of a rather vicious “lady’s man”. Didn’t really go anywhere as a story. 4/10.
  • The Closing Door ~ A young man faces up to a dire diagnosis. His lover unknowingly twists the knife. No shortage of symbolic situation in this one; I suspect it is one of the earlier efforts of the author. 5/10.
  • Indiscretion ~ Be careful what you say and who you say it to. Three lives are changed by a single sentence. A mite too contrived for my full enjoyment. 4/10.
  • Angels and Archangels ~ Religion and hypocrisy. The hypocrites win. A bitter little tale. 5/10.
  • Split Second ~ This story is the definite high point of the book. A middle-aged woman goes out for a walk, and comes away from a brush with death to a very different world. Or does she? Brutally pathetic, and perfectly written. 9/10.

Here’s another assessment of this collection:

Savidge Reads – The Rendezvous and other stories

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marrying off mother gerald durrellMarrying Off Mother and other stories by Gerald Durrell ~ 1991. This edition: Harper Collins, 1991. Hardcover. ISBN: 0-99-223808-X. 197 pages.

My rating: 8/10.

A quick, easy, and enjoyable read.

I have a strong fondness for Gerald Durrell’s self-aware, tongue-in-cheek, and humorously wry writings, stretching back to a childhood introduction to his books when my parents were given a copy of Catch Me a Colobus. My father had it on his night table, and was reading it with evident enjoyment, and when I asked him what it was about he handed it to me with a smile. I laboriously read it – I was of the tender age of 8 or 9 at the time – and was hooked.

Since then I do believe I’ve read every single thing the man wrote, with the exception of some of the juveniles of the writer’s last years. Obviously not an exclusive reaction, as Gerald Durrell was a best-selling author and eventually a household name in the English-speaking world –  right up there with the even more prominent David Attenborough –  though he (Durrell) bluntly stated in his later books that the income from his writing helped in great part to finance his pet project, the Jersey Zoo & Wildlife Preservation Trust , and that he continued to produce manuscripts only for the purpose of furthering his wildlife work.

Be that as it may, the man did have a decided literary talent, and in later years broadened his scope from the autobiographical to the more obviously fictional, with several novels and a number of short stories to his credit.  Many of Gerald Durrell’s fictional short stories show a decidedly macabre twist to the man’s mind; one in particular, The Entrance, the final story in The Picnic and Other Pandemonium – an otherwise quite light-hearted and delightful compilation – has the distinction of being one of the creepiest and most frightening tales I’ve ever read, and rather put me off Durrell completely for a while, giving an unwelcome insight into something other than the avuncular animal-loving anecdotist one innocently assumed. I got over it, though I still think of that particular book with a reminiscent shudder, and have studiously ignored it ever since. Though now that I’ve been reminded, I have the feeling that I should perhaps face my fears and re-read it and review it. Maybe. Or maybe not…

As usual, I’ve digressed. Back on track, then, with a rundown on this short story compilation, which, though a bit dark in places, was, as always, mostly just plain diverting reading, perfect for tea break consumption – engaging but not too challenging, and easy to take up and put down.

  • Esmeralda

Of all the many regions in La Belle France, there is one whose very name adds a lustrous glitter to the eye of a gourmet, a flush of anticipation to his cheeks, that drenches his taste buds with anticipatory saliva, and that is the euphonious name of Périgord. Here the chestnuts and walnuts are of prodigious size, here the wild strawberries are as heavily scented as a courtesan’s boudoir. Here the apples, the pears and the plums have sublime juices captured in their skins, here the flesh of chicken, duckling and pigeon is firm and white, here the butter is as yellow as sunshine and the cream on top of the churns is thick enough to balance a full glass of wine on. As well as all these riches, Périgord has one supreme prize that lurks beneath the loamy soil of her oak woods, the truffle, the troglodyte fungus that lives below the surface of the forest floor, black as a witch’s cat, delicious as all the perfumes of Arabia.

Enter one Esmeralda, a porcine lady graced with a delicate golden chain around her neck, and smelling delicately of the exclusive perfume Joy…

  • Fred – or A Touch of the Warm South

On a lecture tour of the American South, our author is hosted by a Traditional Southern Lady, and meets her butler Fred. By the by, the amount of ardent spirits consumed during this short foray into Tennessee give an insight into Durrell’s subsequent liver problems. The man did seem to enjoy tipping them back!

As the taxi drew up (the) handsome door was thrown open to the frame by a very large, very black gentleman with white hair in tail coat and striped trousers. He looked as though he might be the accredited Ambassador of practically any emerging nation. In the rich port-like tones that I remembered from the telephone he said, ‘Mr. Dewrell, welcome to Miz Magnolia’s residence.’ and then added as an afterthought, ‘Ahyam Fred.’

‘Glad to know you, Fred.’ I said. ‘Can you handle the luggage?’

‘Everything will be under control,’ said Fred.

The taxi driver had deposited my two suitcases on the gravel and driven off. Fred surveyed them as if they were offensive litter.

‘Fred,’ I said, interested, ‘do you normally wear that clothing?’

He glanced down his body with disdain.

‘No,’ he said, ‘but Miz Magnolia say ah was to greet yew in traditional costume.’

‘You mean that this is traditional costume here in Memphis?’ I asked.

‘No suh,’ he said bitterly, ‘it’s traditional costume where yew comes from.’

  • Retirement

A Scandinavian ship’s captain looks forward to his last voyage and retirement beside the sea, but his plans are tragically set at naught. A delicately appreciative tale with a chillingly memorable ending.

  • Marrying Off Mother

A return to the sunny Corfu of My Family and Other Animals, and an attempt by her children to bring some romance into Mrs. Durrell’s life.

‘I wonder if passion flowers would look nice on that east wall,’ said Mother, looking up from her seed catalogue. ‘They are so pretty. I can imagine that east wall just covered with passion flowers, can’t you?’

‘We could do with a bit of passion around here,’ said Larry. ‘Just recently, the place has been as chaste as a nunnery.’

‘I don’t see what passion flowers have got to do with nuns,’ said Mother.

Larry sighed and gathered up his mail.

‘Why don’t you get married again?’ he suggested. ‘You’ve been looking awfully wilted lately, rather like an overworked nun.’

‘Indeed I haven’t,’ said Mother indignantly.

‘You’re looking sort of shrewish and spinsterish,’ said Larry… ‘And all this mooning about passion flowers. It’s very Freudian. Obviously what you want is a dollop of romance in your life. Get married again.’

‘What rubbish you talk, Larry,’ said my mother, bridling. ‘Get married again! What nonsense! Your father would never allow it.’

‘Dad’s been dead for nearly twelve years. I think his objection could be overruled, don’t you? …’

Never fear. Mother competently turns the tables on her meddling family.

  • Ludwig

Do Germans, as a race,  have a sense of humour? The author attempts to answer this query with the cooperation of a willing-to-learn hotel manager, one Ludwig Dietrich.

  • The Jury

A former British public hangman is discovered to be living in a remote South American village. Though he has tried to make a new life for himself, he can’t outrun his past. An appropriately nasty ending awaits him, with our author as chief (fictional, one would hope and assume) witness.

  • Miss Booth-Wycherly’s Clothes

An ex-nun creatively and anonymously supports her old order’s orphanage, with the help of the bequest of the magnificent wardrobe of the deceased Miss Booth-Wycherly of Monte Carlo.

  • A Parrot for the Parson

The gift of a foul-mouthed parrot assists a defrocked vicar in his quest for replacements for the choirboys he longer has easy access to. Immensely politically incorrect, but rather funny in an “I shouldn’t be laughing at this” sort of way.

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tip on a dead jockey irwin shaw 001Tip on a Dead Jockey and other stories by Irwin Shaw ~ 1957. This edition: Signet, 1957. Paperback. 176 pages.

My rating: 8/10. Very decent collection of mostly melancholic short stories about jaded Americans in post-war Europe and “back home”.

I found this disintegrating paperback on my dad’s workshop bookshelves when I was going through his papers after his death six years ago. Dad liked his reading straight-serious (think detailed war memoirs and biographies), and satirical-serious (John Steinbeck was a big favourite), and cynically humorous (Wilhelm Busch in the original German was there in a number of editions), and technical and creative (Popular Science and Popular Mechanics, heaps and heaps, dating back to the early 1950s – my son scooped these and they now reside in dusty, well-read, falling apart glory on the cabin bookshelves), and travel and historical (National Geographic, of course, another massive, complete collection. I think these start with the 1961 full year, though there are stray earlier ones.) The dramatic fictional bestsellers of the day were well-represented as well, lots of Irwin Shaw around when I was growing up, though I don’t remember this particular one. Must have been on a really high shelf!

This Shaw collection, from very early in the writer’s career – 1946 to 1957 being the publication dates mentioned on the copyright page – are crisp, clean, often cynically humorous, well written and definitely entertaining. Not all have conclusions, which while a bit cliffhangerish is not necessarily a handicap to appreciation. Good stuff. Thanks, Dad.

I’ve been reading other bloggers’ magnificent and thoughtful posts with great admiration recently, and am feeling decidedly sub-par in this regard tonight – I will not even try to get all deep and meaningful.

Here’s my review: I liked these stories. They were very readable. You may find yourself craving a glass of whiskey (with or without a mixer), or a bottle of harsh red French wine (glass optional). My usual beverage of choice, a “nice cup of tea”, felt rather too granny-ish; I was almost ashamed of myself. No, hang on – two of the stories had tea-drinking in them. Though one couple  added rum. Hm, that sounds fairly foul. Or maybe not?! Worked for the characters, apparently – it was followed by a night of passion!

*****

Tip on a Dead Jockey ~ In post-war Paris, pilot Lloyd Barber is offered a chance at some easy money, just one simple trip, flying a brand-new single-engine Beechcraft, from Egypt to Cannes.

“Alone?” Barber asked, trying to keep all the facts straight.

“Alone, that is,” Smith said, “except for a small box… When you take off from the airport in Cairo, the box is not on board. And when you land at the airport at Cannes, the box is not on board. Isn’t that enough?”

It’s not quite enough, or maybe it’s too much – Barber eventually turns the job down, but not before inadvertently introducing Smith to another pilot friend, the naïve and trusting Jimmy Richardson.

You didn’t have to speculate about Jimmy. If you bought Jimmy a drink, he was your friend for life. For all that he had been through – war and marriage and being a father and living in a foreign country – it had still never occurred to Jimmy that people might not like him or might try to do him harm. When you were enjoying Jimmy, you called it trustfulness. When he was boring you, you called it stupidity.

Choosing not to warn Jimmy about Smith’s “opportunities”, Barber is overwhelmed with guilt and unease when Jimmy’s distraught wife shows up begging for help in finding him; he’s been gone thirty-two days without a word. There’s a little twist in the tail of this tale.

This short story was worked up into a 1957 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie, with loads of added elements; only the author’s original sketchy premise and a few of the names remained the same.

A Wicked Story ~ A wife’s unfounded  jealousy becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In the French Style ~ Cynical Walter Beddoes, “career man in the foreign service”, returns to his home base in Paris from two months away in Egypt to find his reliable good time girlfriend has decided to move on to something more permanent. Beddoes had had his chance, but he’d ducked it:

It was lucky he was leaving, if she was moving into that phase. That was the pre-yearning-for-marriage phase, and you had to be on guard against it, especially late at night, in Paris, in darkened rooms where pianists and electric guitars played songs about dead leaves and dead loves and lovers who were separated by wars.

Beddoes had been married once, and he felt, for the time being, that that was enough. Wives had a tendency to produce children, and sulk and take to drink or other men when their husbands were called away to the other side of the earth for three or four months at a time on jobs.

Of course, there are regrets.

Peter Two ~ Thirteen-year-old Peter has a harsh foray into the fickleness of the adult world. This one almost cries out to be included in a high school short story anthology – maybe it has been? – I can imagine how joyfully an earnest teacher would pick it apart and spread out its “discussion points”! Lots of essay material here, oh yes indeed.

It was Saturday night and people were killing each other by the hour on the small screen, Policemen were shot in the line of duty, gangsters were thrown off roofs, and an elderly lady was slowly poisoned for her pearls, and her murderer was brought to justice by a cigarette company after a long series of discussions in the office of a private detective. Brave, unarmed actors leaped at villains holding forty-fives, and ingénues were saved from death by the knife by the quick thinking of various handsome and intrepid young men.

Peter sat in the big chair in front of the screen, his feet up over the arm, eating grapes. His mother wasn’t home, so he ate the seeds and all as he stared critically at the violence before him. When his mother was around, the fear pf appendicitis hung in the air and she watched carefully to see that each seed was neatly extracted and placed in an ashtray. Too, if she were home, there would be irritated little lectures on the quality of television entertainment for the young, and quick-tempered fiddling with the dials to find something that was vaguely defined as educational …

Suddenly, in the hall outside the apartment, a woman screams…

Age of Reason ~ A man’s repeated nightmare highlights uneasy aspects of his marriage, and forebodes a disaster which may or may not come to pass.

The Kiss at Croton Falls ~ Frederick Mull, trolley driver, “a huge rollicking man, with a russet mustache”, a drinking habit, and a supremely jealous wife who sneaks around spying on Mull’s lady passengers, dies at the height of his glory, leaving his wife to convene with his ghost, and his grown-up daughter Clarice to take a good hard look at her own husband. Grand little story, humorous and perfectly crafted.

Then We Were Three ~ American expatriates Munnie, Bert and Martha travel through France enjoying a platonic three-way friendship which lasts one day too long.

The Sunny Banks of the River Lethe ~ A man’s perfect memory dissolves. Irwin’s been reading Kafka.

The Wedding of a Friend ~ Ronny Biddell’s wedding brings back memories of his ill-fated, one-sided, first love affair during the war, with the duplicitous but delicious French Virginie. Light-hearted.

Voyage Out, Voyage Home ~ Lovely young American Constance is taking a quiet, solitary skiing vacation in Switzerland at her father’s expense, to mull over her prospective marriage to a much older man (Daddy doesn’t approve), when she meets the charming, reckless Englishman Pritchard. No surprises, but nicely done – a classic tale of  love and loss.

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the roaring girl greg hollingshead 001The Roaring Girl: Stories by Greg Hollingshead ~ 1995. This edition: Somerville House, 1995. Softcover. ISBN: 1-895897-53-X. 196 pages.

My rating: 4/10. These are cleverly written, but a little too far out there for me. I wouldn’t re-read any of these anytime soon, and if I’d never heard of Greg Hollingshead it wouldn’t break my heart.

This collection won the 1995 Governor General’s Award for English Fiction – Short Stories, and the contents are undeniably well-written, but most of the stories left me feeling more than a mite confused, and usually a whole lot disturbed. Hollingshead has a creative mind and a grand way with words – some of his phrases lift up off the page and vigorously come to life – but it’s all kind of kinky. Often humorous, but definitely dark. Lots of sex – mostly of the “ew!” nature – and deeply twisted thoughts.

I’m not going to spend any time deeply reviewing this one, because it would require me to spend more time in Greg’s head (as it were) and, quite frankly, I don’t want to.  I’ll be moving The Roaring Girl along to see if it can find a more suitable home.

*****

  • The Side of the Elements – A couple rents out their home for the year they must be away. Stuff goes on in their absence. This one I rather liked.
  • The People of the Sudan – A family is maneuvered into taking temporary care of a box full of Canadian Christian Relief “supplies” for someone going to the Sudan; the rendezvous goes awry and the situation goes surreal. Another good one; downright humorous.
  • Rose Cottage – A young man becomes involved in trying to fix what he believes is an abusive relationship between a nurse and her elderly charge.
  • The Roaring Girl – A transient girl is given temporary haven by a family, deeply affecting the adolescent son.
  • The Age of Reason – Some sort of dysfunctional family saga. I have no idea what this was all about!
  • Rat With Tangerine –  Ditto.
  • A Night at the Palace – This one was a complete nightmare – couldn’t finish it. People behaving strangely. And badly. Hallucinogenic.
  • The Appraisal – Oh, thank goodness – an actual narrative arc! Well, relatively speaking. A cottage appraisal turns into a conversation on the nature of civilization, and its impending collapse. Awesome – loved it.
  • The Death of Brulé – A young boy becomes involved with the older girl next door. Ick.
  • The Naked Man – Another absolutely surreal family tale.
  • How Happy They Were – Sad people; love gone wrong.
  • Walking on the Moon – The view from a roof overlooking the people next door. Odd.

So – out of these twelve there were four I kind of, sort of, almost enjoyed reading. The Appraisal is the only one I’d willingly seek out again. Goodbye, Roaring Girl!

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M is for Magic by Neil Gaiman ~ 2007. This edition: Harper Collins, 2007. First Edition. Hardcover. ISBN: 978-0-06-1186424-4. 260 pages.

My rating: 8/10. It’s Neil Gaiman – what else can I say? When he’s good, he’s great. Some of his stuff is a bit out there and twisty for my squeamish comfort, but mostly I’m a solid fan.

But I disagree with the marketing angle for this collection – this is not a book for children. The true audience here is teens and up, in my opinion. Some of the reference are totally aimed at adults. Not to say kids shouldn’t read this – not at all! Like most of Ray Bradbury’s work, whom this collection was inspired by according to Gaiman’s forward, the fact that some of the stuff is over their heads will be immaterial.

None of the material in this book is original to it; the pieces have all been published in other anthologies and collections, with the exception of  The Witch’s Headstone, which is an excerpt from and a teaser for The Graveyard Book, which was about to be published the next year, 2008,  and Gaiman’s Introduction.

*****

  • Introduction ~ “When I was a boy, Ray Bradbury picked stories from his books of short stories he thought younger readers might like, and he published them in R is for Rocket and S is for Space. Now I was doing the same thing, and I asked Ray if he’d mind if I called this book M is for Magic. (He didn’t.) M is for Magic. All the letters are, if you put them together properly. You can make magic with them, and dreams, and, I hope, even a few surprises…” ~ Neil Gaiman, August 2006
  • The Case of the Four and Twenty Blackbirds ~ 1984 ~ A take-off on the hardboiled detective story, a la Dashiell Hammett. The main conceit here is that the characters are nursery rhyme figures. Meh. Cute idea, but it doesn’t really work. (Starting on a low point. Don’t worry, it gets better.) 5/10.
  • Troll Bridge ~ 1993 ~ Omigosh. Angst Alert! A boy encounters a troll at the tender age of seven and bargains successfully for his life. But if you live long enough things may just come full circle. 8/10.
  • Don’t Ask Jack ~ 1995 ~ A pointless little vignette featuring a jack-in-the-box and Time. Methinks the author was reading too much Bradbury before he penned this one. 6/10.
  • How to Sell the Ponti Bridge ~ 1985 ~ Okay, now we’re warming up. The story of the perfect scam, and how to turn lust and greed back on itself. And I award this one a  perfect 10/10.
  • October in the Chair ~ 2002 ~ The Months are telling stories. Beautiful set up, and one of those endings which leaves you just hanging there gasping in mid-air. Nice. 9/10.
  • Chivalry ~ 1993 ~ Mrs. Whitaker finds the Holy Grail in an Oxfam Shop, and things get interesting. Gorgeous! And very funny.  Another 10/10.
  • The Price ~ 1997 ~ This one bothered me, being a cat person. An adopted Black Cat apparently guards his human family against the devil, but the battle is proving too much for him. Sad. 6/10.
  • How to Talk to Girls at Parties ~ 2006 ~ Vic and Enn crash the wrong party. These girls come from a long way away. 7/10.
  • Sunbird ~ 2005 ~ The Epicurean Club finds a new and mostly fatal dining experience. A strangely entrancing tale. 8/10.
  • The Witch’s Headstone ~ 2007 ~ An excerpted chapter from the yet-to-be-published (at the time of this collection) Graveyard Book. Young Bod falls in with the ghost of a witch, and does the perfect thing. 10/10.
  • Instructions ~ 2000 ~ A poem lays out the fairytale guide to life’s journey. 11/10. (No, that’s not a typo. Love this one that much. Hmm, maybe I should post it.)

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Let the Day Perish by Christian Petersen ~ 1999. This edition: Beach Holme Publishing, 1999. First Edition. Softcover. ISBN: 0-88878-400-7. 136 pages.

My rating: 9/10. Strong, vivid and eloquent. “Beautifully crafted”  and “Powerful” may have become clichéd descriptions, but they apply in their most sincere sense to these punchy short stories.

*****

From the back cover:

Christian Petersen beautifully reins in the confusion and displacement of a diminishing band of men facing the daily spectre of an unforgiving land, men enslaved to the grind of the sawmill, hunkered on bar stools, high in the saddle of a John Deere, or wild behind the wheel speeding down dirt roads to the Fraser. Here are fathers, brothers, lovers in search of forsaken children, bygone loves, and memories long faded in the wash of fast-running streams and firelight. Here are the unpardoned, raging against what they might have been, what they are now, and where their paths have led them. Yet Petersen’s characters hollow out a quiet dignity, gentle in the silent truth that they are small in the face of pain – and of change.

Regional literature set in areas familiar to the reader is difficult to view in perspective. I find that I am often so caught up in nodding in recognition of places and people that a crucial distance is hard to maintain in attempting to judge merit of story and style. And this is a very local collection of stories, by a writer who closely shares my own experience of time and place in his formative years, growing up in Quesnel in the 1960s and 70s, leaving the Cariboo for a time, and eventually resettling in Williams Lake, where he has worked (is still working?) as a probation officer. He is obviously a keen observer of local “types” – they are instantly recognizable – but he looks past the superficial surface of the stereotypes to the turmoil within.

A quotation on the opening page gives a clue to the content within:

If a story is not to be about love or fear, then I think it must be about anger.

  • The Look of the Lightning, The Sound of the Birds ~ Diane Schoemperlen

Love, fear and anger are all represented here in their deepest intensity.

A very readable collection of stories, definitely for British Columbians familiar with the Cariboo-Chilcotin settings, and with a broader appeal to universal emotions which should resonate with readers everywhere.

  • Heart Red Monaco ~ Two unlikely friends search for some kind of meaning in their treading-water lives.
  • The Next Nine Hundred Years ~ Vignettes of “working at the mill.”
  • Horseshoes ~ Two brothers: rivalry, conflict and resolution.
  • Come Evening ~ A day with one of the fringe-dwelling “troopers” of Williams Lake.
  • Scout Island ~ From her house overlooking the nature reserve, a horse trainer deals with “getting by”, and a troubling situation initiated by her young son and her elderly great-aunt.
  • Country Boys ~ The brutal world of the high school bully, his victims and, ultimately, his tormenters.
  • Taseko ~ A boy goes moose hunting in the Chilcotin with his father and his father’s friend.
  • Let the Day Perish ~ Life, love and death on the ranch.
  • This is How It Is ~ A divorced father yearns for his young daughter.
  • Thibeau’s Crossing ~ Betrayal changes everything in a peaceful valley.
  • Charity ~ A sincere Baptist Church minister gives in to passion with far-reaching consequences.
  • Men’s Wear (after a fashion) ~ The venerable owner of the town’s “upper crust” men’s wear store is challenged by changed times, and undergoes an epiphany. Great ending note to this collection – left me smiling. Nice to quit on a high point; some of these stories (though not all) were dark.

Petersen has also written a mystery novel, Outside the Line (2009), and another collection of short stories, All Those Drawn to Me (2010). He is currently working on another book, a novel. I will be watching for it. Keep an eye out for this author. This first collection is excellent.

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Passing of the Third Floor Back by Jerome K. Jerome ~ 1904. This edition: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1928. Hardcover. 186 pages.

My rating: This is one of those complicated-to-rate books. In context with other short story collections of its time, I thought it fairly typical. Not perhaps outstanding, but a solid little group of era-correct (love that term – it comes from the vintage car world, in which I have a tiny involvement) pieces. Did I enjoy them, though, on a purely reading-for-pleasure level? Some yes, others not so much. I thought the short stories herein were reasonably well written – if a bit wordy – and quite moralistic. No doubt as to what we’re supposed to be thinking at the end of each!

So, taking everything into consideration, how about  7/10. I don’t know if I would recommend this small collection as purely pleasure reading suitable for modern tastes, but the stories do possess a certain curiousity value, and several are quite humorous, in an “era-correct” (there, I got to use that again!) sort of way.

*****

Jerome K. Jerome, 1859-1927, is, as you’ll know unless you’ve been residing under a literary rock all your adult days, best-known for his 1889 comic novel, Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), still very much in print 123 years after its first publication. This was my own first introduction to this author some years ago, and I found the story mildly diverting. A pleasant memory persisted, so when I chanced upon this book of short stories in a pile of vintage hardcovers on the deliciously over-crowded shelves of At Second Glance in Kamloops, I eagerly added it to my pile of acquisitions.

Apparently the title story, Passing of the Third Floor Back, was made into a quite successful movie in 1935, starring Conrad Veidt. I must admit I’d never heard of it until I did a bit of background research on this book for reasons of this review, but from the Wikipedia article it looks as though Jerome’s story was very much a starting point – the movie plot as described seems nothing like the story I’ve just read, but for the boarding house setting and the idea of the mysterious stranger changing the lives of those about him.

Six stories make up this collection.

Passing of the Third Floor Back ~  A mysterious stranger moves into a squalid boarding house and changes the lives of everyone who comes into contact with him.

The Philosopher’s Joke ~ What if you could go back to your younger days, but still remember everything you’d learned through your maturity? I liked the premise, but found the handling rather awkward. An intriguing idea – very thought-provoking.

The Soul of Nicolas Snyders, or The Miser of Zandam ~ An exchange of souls has predictable results, and a few surprises. Moralistic but smile-provoking.

Mrs. Korner Sins Her Mercies ~ The most purely humorous story of the collection. A clever friend puts an interesting spin on a marital crisis.

The Cost of Kindness ~ A good deed sets off a chain reaction, with very different results than first anticipated. Another humorous piece.

The Love of Ulrich Nebendahl ~ Self-sacrifice taken to the extreme. This was the most serious story of the lot; a rather shocking conclusion, which the author attempts to soften with a Biblical tag.

*****

I am going to leave my review right there – a simple report – so sorry, but I can’t quite bring off a deeper analysis. Limited computer time this week, and so much going on in my real life that my thinking capacity is all used up by the time I sit down to type!

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