Sunday, July 27, 2014

July 27th: Willa Cather
A Month of Short Stories and Their Authors

now finished: 10 Años con Mafalda by Quino
 and Zola and His Time by Matthew Josephson
now about to read, maybe: Good Wives by Louisa May Alcott

We're in the home stretch, folks! The home stretch being, in this case, the last five days of my Month of Short Stories, in which I am reading a short story per day and then jabbering about it here on the Lit Supp. In other words, posting more to this blog in a month than I have in the last year. Pathetic! I know! But I never met a reading project I didn't like (and, invent).

Today's Story: "Double Birthday"
Author: Willa Cather
My Rating: B

Not my first Willa Cather, although I believe it's my first time being in Pittsburgh with her. I've previously read her novels My Antonia, Death Comes for the Archbishop, and the Pulitzer-winning One of Ours. This story was pleasant enough, as stories go, and the characters are good--well-drawn, likable, flawed, sometimes forlorn, sometimes non-conformist--and there's a narrative, if not tons of plot, that leads you along. It's all, well, fine. But not exciting. And you would think I could get far more excited about a bunch of people who are thinking about what one should do with one's life and whether one has lived well if one has not gone down the traditional, prescribed path of marriage-family-home-ownership-pleasing-society. I mean, hello! C'est moi!

"His old schoolfellows went to New York now as often as he had done in his youth; but they went to consult doctors, to put children in school, or to pay the bills of incorrigible sons.
He thought he had had the best of it; he had gone a-Maying while it was May. This solid comfort, this iron-bound security, didn't appeal to him much. These massive houses, after all, held nothing but the heavy domestic routine; all the frictions and jealousies and discontents of family life. Albert felt light and free, going up the hill in this thin overcoat. He believed he had had a more interesting life than most of his friends who owned real estate."
- from "Double Birthday," on p. 91 in The Best American Short Stories of the Century

That would be me. So, I can apparently relate to 55-year-old Albert, celebrating his birthday on the same day as his 80-year-old uncle, both of whom are judged too harshly by the an actual judge, whose daughter the old friend of Albert likes the two birthday boys well enough to ditch some plans with her regular society in order to hang our with them. Also, there is prohibited alcohol (as in , Prohibition-prohibited), kindly provided by the judge and his daughter. Nice! All in all, the story is an okay glimpse into this little world, and offers some decent reflection on being independent and meeting your own standards and no one else's, but it takes a while to get around to this and as it goes along it jumps all over the place. It's the old "Here we are--here's an explanatory flashback--here we are back to now" structure that is acceptable but sometimes just comes across as really expository, like someone was more concerned with sharing an idea that writing fiction.

The judge judges Albert for being "young when he should be old, single when he should be married, and penniless when he should be well-fixed." This judge would obviously have something to say to me, too. But: we find a similarity between the judge and the uncle, both of whom like to have their time to themselves in the libraries in their respective houses, although they read quite different books. So, let's just say I can relate to pretty much every character in this story.

Not bad or anything. Just not mind-blowing.

I did rather enjoy how it started, though:

"Even in American cities, which seem so much alike, where people seem all to be living the same lives, striving for the same things, thinking the same thoughts, there are still individuals a little out of tune with the times..."  -- on p.77 in the aforementioned volume, if you care

I like when I read something from 1929 by Willa Cather that is how people would describe the totally Walmartized fast food strip mall nation of today and it reminds me that life has always been like life and people have always been like people, and every time you're about to talk about how unique your generation is, it probably isn't.

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