Tuesday, July 22, 2014

July 22nd: Sherwood Anderson
A Month of Short Stories and Their Authors

now reading: too much. it's all just too much.
on the bright side, I feel validated by James Lee Burke

There really are quite a few B-plus stories out there in the world, folks. 

Today's Story: "The Other Woman"
Author: Sherwood Anderson
My Rating: B+

I first read Sherwood Anderson in Los Angeles when we were doing our The Books We Should Have Read in High School book group. We read Wineseburg, Ohio. I'm not entirely sure I thought then (nor think now) that Winesburg, Ohio qualifies as a Book We Should Have Read in High School, but, you know, my fellow book groupies were from the Midwest, so, what can I say? 

Anyway, it was all right. I can't really remember plot/character specifics about it as much as I remember the mood and tone. It seems to fit in with the whole 1910s/1920s literature ilk like the early Pulitzer winners (The Magnificent Ambersons, One of Ours, So Big, etc.)  All Midwestern-y and our-world-is-changing-like. Well, this short story didn't really strike me as that. For one thing ,I couldn't place where we were: the Midwest? New York? A city? A town? It didn't really matter. But let me just say, this story is male, male, male, male, male. 

For any of you who start twitching and having heart palpitations whenever feminism is brought up, let me just say that it's not a bad thing to be male. (For a person, or a story.) You can be a male piece of literature and be acceptable or even brilliant. But it is also acceptable to talk about the fact that a totally male thing has been written. Though I don't remember much about ol' Sherwood from the book group Winesburg encounter, I certainly don't remember him seeming off-putting or limited. But this story? Let's just say it's easy to see why John Updike, as editor of the The Best American Short Stories of the Century, selected it for inclusion in his volume. 

I mean -- gasp, sputter! -- the woman doesn't say anything!  That shows us what we are doing here. This story is male, male, male all the way through, told by one male to another, about the women only as they affect male narrator, and that is IT. 

But this story is also about sex. Specifically, about how young unmarrieds, in a world before sex education (or, one might assume, after sex education, that latter being a world we soon might live in if the Republicans' lobbyists have their way), don't really know what the !@*$%* is about to hit them on their wedding night. Now, I have never really bought this innocent ignorance theory, at least not totally. I think people reasonably talked at least a little about things. And if they were farm kids, and rural, and whatnot, then they understood a thing or two about basic biology from the annual livestock cycles, if nothing else. So, apart from a few VERY sheltered urban kids, who really didn't know at ALL what s/he's getting into upon getting married? But satisfaction is another matter. And Sherwood Anderson all but says this outright in "The Other Woman." You're reading along thinking male, male, male, anecdote, anecdote, anecdote, marriage, marriage, marriage, blah, blah, blah, and then suddenly WHAM! You're like, oh--hey--how to be satisfied in love and life. 

And you then have to give some kudos, I suppose, to Sherwood (I just can't be all formal and call him Anderson; it's hopeless) for having the wherewithal to be like, I'm gonna set this right down in a short story under all the prudes' noses... Is that how it went down? I like to think that's how it went down.

Should I read some more Sherwood Anderson?  Yeah, maybe I should. Have YOU read any Sherwood Anderson? 

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