Short Story Day Twenty – A Telephone Call

20. A Telephone Call
Dorothy Parker
http://www.classicshorts.com/stories/teleycal.html

This is day Twenty of my Month of Short Stories – a story a day for June.

Dorothy Parker is a writer that, deservedly or not, is less famous as a writer as she is famous for being Dorothy Parker. She is known for her wit, her wisecracks, and for her acerbic and slightly warped observations on the life around her.

I think of her primarily as a key member of the Algonquin Round Table. I’m jealous of that. Wouldn’t it be great to have such cool friends? To sit around all day trying to outdo each other in wit and verbal repartee? That would be the life.

But even Dorothy Parker tired of the circle. She said, in later years:

These were no giants. Think who was writing in those days—Lardner, Fitzgerald, Faulkner and Hemingway. Those were the real giants. The Round Table was just a lot of people telling jokes and telling each other how good they were. Just a bunch of loudmouths showing off, saving their gags for days, waiting for a chance to spring them….There was no truth in anything they said. It was the terrible day of the wisecrack, so there didn’t have to be any truth…

I’m not sure if that’s fair. If your goal is to have a large group of writers get together and everyone turn out work like William Faulkner and Earnest Heminglway… well, good luck with that.

Sometimes there is a bitter truth in wisecracks and there are worse ways to waste your life than to spend it in the company of witty friends.

Today’s story, A Telephone Call, is a pleasent little ditty – a first person account of a woman in desperate desire and drowning in existential angst. At first glance, it is a simple tale of a woman begging to God to have her man give her a telephone call. Look closer, though, and you will see it’s more complex and sophisticated than it appears.

Reading what others have said of this story, many write about how young the woman is and they remember when they were that age – as if misplaced desire is a perogative of the youthful. I don’t see it that way. I read it as a woman having an affair with a married man, slightly ashamed of her behavior, but unable to control herself.

I think he must still like me a little. He couldn’t have called me “darling” twice today, if he didn’t still like me a little. It isn’t all gone, if he still likes me a little; even if it’s only a little, little bit. You see, God, if You would just let him telephone me, I wouldn’t have to ask You anything more. I would be sweet to him, I would be gay, I would be just the way I used to be, and then he would love me again. And then I would never have to ask You for anything more. Don’t You see, God? So won’t You please let him telephone me? Won’t You please, please, please?

Are You punishing me, God, because I’ve been bad? Are You angry with me because I did that? Oh, but, God, there are so many bad people –You could not be hard only to me. And it wasn’t very bad; it couldn’t have been bad. We didn’t hurt anybody, God. Things are only bad when they hurt people. We didn’t hurt one single soul; You know that. You know it wasn’t bad, don’t You, God? So won’t You let him telephone me now?
—-Dorothy Parker, A Telephone Call

Short Story Day Nineteen – Eyes of a Blue Dog

19. Eyes of a Blue Dog

Gabriel Garcia Marquez
http://www.classicshorts.com/stories/bluedog.html

This is day Nineteen of my Month of Short Stories – a story a day for June.

Source Figure, by Robert Graham, foreground, We Stand Together, George Rodrigue, background

Source Figure, by Robert Graham, foreground, We Stand Together, George Rodrigue, background

Gabriel Garcia Marquez is one of my favorite writers of all time. One Hundred Years of Solitude was a revelation when I read it decades ago – it is on my desert island list for sure. Love in the Time of Cholera might even be a better book, all around.

My love for his prodigious output of short fiction has never matched that of his epic novels, however. In small doses his Magic Realism (can this style of writing even be done in English? In an American settting?) feels overly precious to me – though his genius is evident even there.

Even though I love his work, if you tell me you can’t get into it… I’d have a hard time arguing. It’s not for everyone. Either it resonates with you or it doesn’t.

Today we have an early short story by him, Eyes of a Blue Dog (originally published in – you guessed it – the New Yorker in 1978). At first the story is confusing… What is going on here? It doesn’t take long to figure out we are in a dream, and the author does a good job of implying the odd geometry of a slumbering illusion.

There are two people in this dream, a man and a woman. They meet in dreams, but can’t connect in real life, because – even though the woman wants to find the man and goes around spreading the phrase “Eyes of a Blue Dog” as a clue to her whereabouts – he can’t remember anything once he wakes up.

It’s a concice example of loneliness. Even when we have found a kindred soul, our passion and hunger are doomed because of the mortal shell we are all trapped within. This theme of the human soul desolate and alone runs through all of his work – despite plenty of life-affirming, entertaining, and hopeful passages.

Now, next to the lamp, she was looking at me. I remembered that she had also looked at me in that way in the past, from that remote dream where I made the chair spin on its back legs and remained facing a strange woman with ashen eyes. It was in that dream that I asked her for the first time: “Who are you?” And she said to me: “I don’t remember.” I said to her: “But I think we’ve seen each other before.” And she said, indifferently: “I think I dreamed about you once, about this same room.” And I told her: “That’s it. I’m beginning to remember now.” And she said: “How strange. It’s certain that we’ve met in other dreams.”
—-Eyes of a Blue Dog, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Short Story Day Eighteen – The Landlady

18. The Landlady
Roald Dahl
http://www.nexuslearning.net/books/holt-eol2/collection%203/landlady.htm

This is day Eighteen of my Month of Short Stories – a story a day for June.

Everybody is familiar with Roald Dahl‘s children’s books and the movies made from them: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Willy Wonka), James and the Giant Peach, The Fantastic Mr. Fox. What makes his children’s books so good, other than the crackerjack storytelling, is the element of subversive evil that lurks, sometimes just beneath the surface… sometimes a bit above. I think all great children’s literature has this dark side to it – at least anything that’s readable by adults.

Not quite as many people nowadays read his short, adult fiction. In these, he takes the evil and runs with it. His stories are the opposite of a lot of the modern fiction (the New Yorker fiction) that you read. The characters are cardboard, there is no character development, no fancy descriptions or clever word-play. It’s all a simple story, short, spare, straightforward right up the the twist reveal ending.

This sort of thing has fallen a bit out of favor today – which is a shame. As much as I like a complex tale of existential angst, complete with extensive interior monologues – there is something to be said for a quick simple plot. It’s satisfying if done well – it’s hard to do well, and Roald Dahl is the best.

Of course, the other thing is that this sort of work is very well adapted for television, especially the anthology series that were so popular during my childhood (and now can be found all over the internet). Dahl’s stories were the core of the various famous Hitchcock anthology shows, the underrated Tales of the Unexpected, or the forgotten Way Out.

Today, we have The Landlady. It’s a horror story, though you don’t know that until you get to the end. I like stuff like this and would love to be able to write it. It was first published in the New Yorker in 1959… where it would never get a second look today.

One word to the wise: as a chemist I can tell you… if you are drinking tea with a stranger and the beverage smells of bitter almonds, it’s time to leave. If you’ve had as much as a sip – time to call 911.

Billy was seventeen years old. He was wearing a new navy-blue overcoat, a new brown trilby hat, and a new brown suit, and he was feeling fine. He walked briskly down the street. He was trying to do everything briskly these days. Briskness, he had decided, was the one common characteristic of all successful businessmen. The big shots up at the head office were absolutely fantastically brisk all the time. They were amazing.

There were no shops on this wide street that he was walking along, only a line of tall houses on each side, all of them identical. They had porches and pillars and four or five steps going up to their front doors, and it was obvious that once upon a time they had been very swanky residences. But now, even in the darkness, he could see that the paint was peeling from the woodwork on their doors and windows and that the handsome white facades were cracked and blotchy from neglect.
—- The Landlady, Roald Dahl

————————————————————–

Man From the South
http://www.americanliterature.com/author/roald-dahl/short-story/man-from-the-south

If I’m going to put something up by Roald Dahl, I have to link to his story, Man from the South, in case you have never seen it before. I read it years and years ago, and always refer to it as an example of how to control rising tension – building until it becomes almost unbearable. This is true both of the written story and the television versions.

There are three versions on Youtube – one, the classic from Alfred Hitchcock, with Steve McQueen and Peter Lorre. It was also done in 1979 and 1985 – those versions are very good too.

I think I might like the Jose Ferrer version the best (I think it has the best crazy woman).

If you are as big a fan of Man from the South as I am – then you should check out the last segment of an otherwise terrible movie called Four Rooms. It’s a short riff by Quentin Tarantino on the whole deal – with a completely different, very Tarantino ending.

Here’s a clip (complete with money shot):

Short Story Day Seventeen – The Dark Arts

17. The Dark Arts
Ben Marcus
http://www.newyorker.com/fiction/features/2013/05/20/130520fi_fiction_marcus

This is day Seventeen of my Month of Short Stories – a story a day for June.

I’m afraid that Ben Marcus is a writer that I knew nothing about. Sorry. There is so much great stuff and I have to earn a living… and I have to ride my bicycle… and there’s my kids… and sometimes I have to do nothing at all. So I picked today’s story because… well, because it is in the New Yorker. It has the stamp of… the stamp of the New Yorker. It has made it past the gatekeepers.

It’s father’s day today, and I chose to eat lunch at a small Peruvian bakery/restaurant near where Arapaho road makes this funny little jump to the left, right across Highway 75 – an inexpensive area where family owned spots from many places in the world tend to settle. I had the ceviche with corn and sweet potato.

Then I needed about twenty miles on my bike to keep up with my annual goal, so I dropped the story from the New Yorker web site onto my Kindle and headed out. I stopped at my little bench in the Spring Creek bottomland woods (the place I saw the snake) to rest, drink a water bottle, and read the story.

The writing was greatness – little bits of genius strung across the page. The story was very dark – an American young person in Germany on a quest for a cure. He has an autoimmune disease – there is quite a bit of mystery in the story over exactly what is wrong, but I think the protagonist has it right when he says, “An allergy to himself was more like it.” Whether it is autoimmune, or a brain tumor, or that he has finally given up on himself – it doesn’t really matter. It is a lonely doom.

Ben Marcus has a book of short stories coming out – Leaving the Sea – it is now on the list… even though the list is getting too long. Do I have enough time to finish? Of course not – it is getting longer faster than I’m checking them off – and I’m getting older even faster than that.

The nice thing about a story in the New Yorker is that plenty of people have something to say. Be careful though – read the story first… a lot of these folks aren’t as careful about giving away the goodies.

 

It was Father’s Day, and me being who I am – I could not help but be affected by a story behind the story. Julian is in Europe thanks to funds sent to him by his father. The story implies that this money does not come easily. His mother is gone. There is a conversation between Julian and his father over the phone where he is asking for more money. His father is full of hope – or at least he pretends to be. Julian says, “He should never, until the very second he died, stop knowing that he had a father who would do anything for him. What a crime to forget this. He was a criminal if he ever stopped thinking this for even a minute.”

This broke my heart. I can see his father emptying his 401k, mortgaging the family house, taking a second job on the weekends. I can see him making pancakes that will never be eaten. I can see him doing what needs to be done. I’m sure he has doubts, regrets, fears, the same feelings of doom that are overwhelming Julian. But still he soldiers on, smiling as best he can, doing what needs to be done.

What more can we hope for?

Did everyone else, he wondered, feel listless, strange, anxious, dull, scared—you could pretty much go shopping from a list of adjectives—and did other people just clench their jaws and endure it, without running to the doctor, as he did, again and again?
—-from The Dark Arts, by Ben Marcus

Short Story Day Sixteen – The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas

16. – The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas
Ursula K Le Guin
http://harelbarzilai.org/words/omelas.txt

Click to access rprnts.omelas.pdf

This is day Sixteen of my Month of Short Stories – a story a day for June.

The trouble is that we have a bad habit, encouraged by pendants and sophisticates, of considering happiness as something rather stupid. Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting. This is the treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain.
—– Ursula K. Le Guin, The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

I have been a big fan of Ursula K Le Guin for a long, long time. In high school, in the 70’s, I read The Left Hand of Darkness – which introduced me to the idea of Science Fiction as literature and as social comment.

In 1980, I was sitting around the house one lazy afternoon and happened to check out PBS. They showed a production of Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven – which blew me away. I was living in Hutchinson, Kansas and considering a move to Dallas. I recognized a lot of Dallas landmarks in the film. The odd thing is that because of some rights problems with a bit of music the movie was never shown again for decades and the master copy was destroyed – only recently has it resurfaced.

So today we link to a short work of Le Guin. The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas is a moral parable about a difficult question. Is it worth the happiness of a society if it depends on the utter suffering of one innocent? This theme is addressed in The Brother’s Karamazov and Le Guin herself spells out an essay that William James wrote on the subject.

Or if the hypothesis were offered us of a world in which Messrs. Fourier’s and Bellamy’s and Morris’s utopias should all be outdone, and millions kept permanently happy on the one simple condition that a certain lost soul on the far-off edge of things should lead a life of lonely torture, what except a specifical and independent sort of emotion can it be which would make us immediately feel, even though an impulse arose within us to clutch at the happiness so offered, how hideous a thing would be its enjoyment when deliberately accepted as the fruit of such a bargain?
—-William James, The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life

The story goes beyond the question, though. After all, the title isn’t The Utopia of Omelas, or The Guilt of Omelas… it’s The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas. The ones that walk away – how and why are they different? Where do they go? Do they regret their decision? Are they better than the rest? Would they say they were? Would you say they were?

Would you walk away?

Oh, by the way… Omelas? It’s SALEM Oregon backward. Ursula K Le Guin saw it on a road sign in a car mirror. I guess she saw it as she was leaving.

Night falls; the traveler must pass down village streets, between the
houses with yellow- lit windows, and on out into the darkness of the
fields. Each alone, they go west or north, towards the mountains. They
go on. They leave Omelas, they walk ahead into the darkness, and they
do not come back. The place they go towards is a place even less
imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe
it at all. It is possible that it does not exist. But they seem to
know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.
—- Ursula K. Le Guin, The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

The PBS Lathe of Heaven from 1980. If you live in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, you will recognize some local landmarks – some of them not here any more.

Short Story Day Fifteen – Wiggle Room

15. Wiggle Room
David Foster Wallace
http://www.newyorker.com/fiction/features/2009/03/09/090309fi_fiction_wallace

This is day Fifteen of my Month of Short Stories – a story a day for June.

The massive, classic novel, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace has been on my to-read list for a long time…, along with 2666 by Roberto Bolaño and Underworld by Don DeLillo. But Jest is over a thousand pages, Underworld a tad over eight hundred and nine hundred for 2666. To tackle a tome of this magnitude takes a commitment of time I’m not sure I have (There aren’t that many years left) when so much shorter stuff is out there. Then again, I’ll always treasure Gravity’s Rainbow and Moby Dick and the other Big Long Books I’ve soldiered through. Who knows?

Today, submitted for your approval, is a short work by David Foster Wallace from the New Yorker. It’s a harrowing look at the soul-destroying numbness of working in a mindless modern cubical-cluttered workplace. Specifically, a midwestern backwater IRS office.

If it seems incomplete, it’s because it is. It is a snippet of Wallace’s last, unfinished novel, The Pale King.

David Foster Wallace committed suicide leaving The Pale King as a disorganized pile of paper and computer files. His friend and editor Michael Pietsch assembled the novel from that and it was published in 2011.

Before it came out, several selections were printed. The New Yorker also published a piece that’s still available online, Good People. It’s a completely different type of story (or snippet) even though it features the same character, Lane Dean, as today’s Wiggle Room.

Also, in the same issue, is a long article on Wallace, The Unfinished… it’s worth a read.

He felt in a position to say he knew now that hell had nothing to do with fires or frozen troops. Lock a fellow in a windowless room to perform rote tasks just tricky enough to make him have to think, but still rote, tasks involving numbers that connect to nothing he’ll ever see or care about, a stack of tasks that never goes down, and nail a clock to the wall where he can see it, and just leave the man there to his mind’s own devices. Tell him to pucker his butt and think beach when he starts to get antsy-and that would be just the word they’d use, antsy, like his mother. Let him find out in time’s fullness what a joke the word was, how it didn’t come anyplace close. He’d already dusted the desk with his cuff, moved his infant son’s photo in its rattly little frame where the front glass slid a bit if you shook it. He’d already tried switching the green rubber over and doing the adding machine with his left hand, pretending he’d had a stroke and was bravely soldiering on. The rubber made the pinkie’s tip all damp and pale beneath it.
—-from Wiggle Room, by David Foster Wallace

Short Story Day Fourteen – Beyond the Door

14. Beyond the Door
Philip K Dick
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/28644

This is day Fourteen of my Month of Short Stories – a story a day for June.

Though he never had any real financial success during his life, Philip K Dick was unquestionably one of the most unique, imaginative, and influential Science Fiction writers of all time. He has had at least ten films adapted from his work: Blade Runner, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report, Paycheck, Next, Screamers, and The Adjustment Bureau. Most of his prodigious output could only find a printed home in low-paying magazines.

Some of his early fiction ended up in the public domain – and that’s where we find today’s little piece of pulp, Beyond the Door.

I’m not sure if the simple little lurid tale can be considered good… the characters are pretty cardboard, the action predictable, no real theme… but it’s a fun read anyway. It’s not a real good example of Philip K. Dick’s best work – his unique warped take on the slippery and ephemeral nature of reality and the inevitabilty of paranoia in modern life influenced a whole generation of modern and postmodern writers. I’ve always though of him as a readable Pynchon – as a Gateway drug into the world of fantastic paranoid literature and film.

In the weeks that followed after Doris left, Larry and the cuckoo clock
got along even worse than before. For one thing, the cuckoo stayed
inside most of the time, sometimes even at twelve o’clock when he should
have been busiest. And if he did come out at all he usually spoke only
once or twice, never the correct number of times. And there was a
sullen, uncooperative note in his voice, a jarring sound that made Larry
uneasy and a little angry.

But he kept the clock wound, because the house was very still and quiet
and it got on his nerves not to hear someone running around, talking and
dropping things. And even the whirring of a clock sounded good to him.

—- Beyond the Door, Philip K Dick

Short Story Day Thirteen – A Father’s Story

13. A Father’s Story
Andre Dubus

Click to access FathersStory.pdf

This is day Thirteen of my Month of Short Stories – a story a day for June.

This Sunday is Father’s Day – so I should rearrange my story order and have this one, A Father’s Story, moved to that day. Fuck it. I don’t hold much to the commercial holidays, the ones that are created simply to get people to buy gifts, stir the retail pot, make some cash – so I won’t stoop.

One interesting tidbit about Father’s Day – if you want to know where we stand. From Snopes – While Mother’s day is the biggest holiday for phone calls, Father’s day is the busiest day for collect calls. Yeah Dad, we’ll talk with ya, but you’re gonna have to pay for it.

Andre Dubus is a master of the short story. He writes without artifice… without messing around – he tells tales of humanity, of ordinary people faced with extraordinary moral choices and coming through them, without a perfect solution, but at least doing the best that they can. Then they have to wait and see if they can live with themselves.

Today’s story, A Father’s Story, is very good, read it and understand.

To add depth to the tale, read and understand a little bit about the author’s life. There is something to be said for the writer – like Pynchon or Salinger, that remains private so that his creations can live their lives on their own and you can judge them fairly and independently. But there is also something to be said for getting to know a little bit about the author, and trying to feel a bit about how he must have felt about putting the words down on paper.

Watch the youtube below and listen to the words of Andre Dubus III, the writer’s son (an author himself – he wrote the acclaimed House of Sand and Fog) as he talks about his father and compare him to the Luke character in the story, his love of opera, and open space, and his thoughts on being a human being.

In 1986, Dubus stopped on his way home to help a brother and sister. Their car had been disabled after hitting an abandoned motorcycle in the road. As he walked the injured sister to the shoulder, another car slammed into the three of them. The brother was killed and his sister survived because Dubus pushed her out of the way. Dubus himself was critically injured. He survived and spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair.

I thought about how the accident had influenced the story, especially the harrowing scene when the father is trying to find out if the blonde boy in the ditch is alive or not. Then, I looked it up and realized the story was written three years before the author was involved in the accident.

A Father’s Story is about the author’s relationship with his daughter and how far he is willing to go to spare her suffering. It’s interesting what he says he would have done if it had been his son instead. But it is also about his relationship with God, and love, and imperfection, both human and divine.

It is not hard to live through a day, if you can live through a moment. What creates despair is the imagination, which pretends there is a future, and insists on predicting millions of moments, thousands of days, and so drains you that you cannot live the moment at hand.
—A Father’s Story, by Andre Dubus

Short Story Day Twelve – Paladin of the Lost Hour

12. Paladin of the Lost Hour
Harlan Ellison
http://harlanellison.com/iwrite/paladin.htm

This is day Twelve of my Month of Short Stories – a story a day for June.

Some stories are hard to put in a category – Science Fiction? Fantasy? Speculative Fiction? – I have a category I like to use for stories like today’s – Crackerjack. It’s a bit longer than the ones I’ve been linking to this month – but please read it… it’s worth it.

Paladin of the Lost Hour has an interesting history. The text fiction was written simultaneously with a screenplay of the same name for the new (1985) version of The Twilight Zone. When the story editor and a producer saw the script they liked it but suggested a change for the ending (the penultimate scene, apparently). Ellison immediately rejected the idea and an argument resulted. After a few days of thinking about it, the author realized they were right and rewrote the ending. Now, he admits the change made the story much better. Now, the revised version is the preferred one, and the one that is in print.

I would like to find the original… but haven’t yet.

I’ve been a fan of Harlan Ellison for as long as I can remember. His short stories, screenplays (remember, he wrote The City on the Edge of Forever, the best Star Trek episode ever)… even his anthologies (I think the reading the Philip José Farmer tale, Riders of the Purple Wage, from Ellision’s groundbreaking original Dangerous Visions is one of the highlights of my life) embody a courage that is lacking in so much… and something I would like to emulate.

Courage… something so rare, difficult, and always ephemeral.

Like the wind crying endlessly through the universe, Time carries away the names and the deeds of conquerors and commoners alike. And all that we are, all that remains, is in the memories of those who cared we came this way for a brief moment.
—- Harlan Ellison, Paladin of the Lost Hour

Here is a youtube video of the Twilight Zone Episode. It’s one of Danny Kaye’s last performances. I’d recommend reading it first – there is an interesting mystery in the text that, obviously, has to be spelled out in the television performance.

Short Story Day Eleven – The Piece of String

11. The Piece of String
Guy de Maupassant
http://www.classicshorts.com/stories/string.html

This is day Eleven of my Month of Short Stories – a story a day for June.

This weekend I went on a long bike ride, from North Dallas, down through White Rock and downtown, across the Jefferson Viaduct bike lanes into Oak Cliff and then down to Bishop Arts… then back.

Along the route, I stopped off at Klyde Warren Park for a rest (and a beer) and, as is my new habit, I read a bit in the Dallas Morning News reading area. I picked up a book I’ve picked up before, Volume I of Somerset Maugham’s collected stories.

This time I read the preface, which was as interesting as the stories themselves. He talked about how he writes – including the notes he took on a South Seas voyage about some fellow travelers that ended up as the story Rain.

Then he wrote eloquently and at length about the differences between two classic short story writers, Chekov and Guy de Maupassant.

I do not know that anyone but Chekov has so poignantly been able to represent spirit communing with spirit. It is this that makes one feel that Maupassant in comparison is obvious and vulgar. The strange, the terrible thing is that, looking at man in their different ways, these two great writers, Maupassant and Chekov, saw eye to eye. One was content to look upon the flesh, while the other, more nobly and subtly, surveyed the spirit; but they agreed that life was tedious and insignificant and that men were base, unintelligent and pitiful.

Maupassant’s stories are good stories. The anecdote is interesting apart from the narration so that it would gain attention if it were told over the dinner table; and that seems to me a very great merit indeed…. These stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. They do not wander along an uncertain line so that you cannot see whither they are leading, but follow without hesitation, from exposition to climax, a bold and vigorous curve.

On the face of it, it is easier to write stories like Chekhov’s than stories like Maupassant’s. To invent a story interesting in itself apart from the telling is a difficult thing, the power to do it is a gift of nature, it cannot be acquired by taking thought, and it is a gift that few people have. Chekhov had many gifts but not this one. If you try to tell one of his stories you will find that there is nothing to tell. The anecdote, stripped of its trimmings, is insignificant and often inane. It was grand for people who wanted to write a story and couldn’t think of a plot to discover that you could very well manage without one. If you could take two or three persons, describe their mutual relations and leave it at that, why then it wasn’t hard to write a story: and if you could flatter yourself that this really was art, what could be more charming?

We have already read Chekhov this month. Looking at that story – we see Maugham’s point. Nothing really happen’s in Gooseberries – there are simply three men, caught by a rainstorm, telling each other some stories. They aren’t even very good stories. And it keeps raining.

Yet it is still genius.

So what about Maupassant? His stories have a plot – you could tell them around a dinner table in your own voice and they would be interesting. His style is considered vulgar and cheap in some circles… but as Maugham says above – it’s really hard to do well.

And it is still genius.

In the public square of Goderville there was a crowd, a throng of human beings and animals mixed together. The horns of the cattle, the tall hats, with long nap, of the rich peasant and the headgear of the peasant women rose above the surface of the assembly. And the clamorous, shrill, screaming voices made a continuous and savage din which sometimes was dominated by the robust lungs of some countryman’s laugh or the long lowing of a cow tied to the wall of a house.

All that smacked of the stable, the dairy and the dirt heap, hay and sweat, giving forth that unpleasant odor, human and animal, peculiar to the people of the field.
—-The Piece of String, by Guy de Maupassant