Although I've been very good about reading a short story every weekend, I've not really gotten out of my old habit of not picking up a short story anthology to read for pleasure. I still choose a novel when I grab for a book. I've managed to accumulate a small pile of short story collections without making any real progress in any of them. I thought this weekend I should revisit a few books I've started this year (and am determined to finish before the year's out).
I have read several stories from Wave Me Goodbye: Stories from the Second World War edited by Anne Boston. I first mentioned it here. The stories are presented chronologically according to the events they describe, so I've been reading them in order. Today I read Rose Macaulay's "Miss Anstruther's Letters". She was asked to write a story for an anthology by British authors for an American audience after the US entered the war, and the story is autobiographical in nature.
"The war years were deeply troubled for her personally. In 1939 her married lover was seriously injured in a car crash while she was driving. 'Miss Anstruther's Letters' was written when she was dying of cancer in 1942, shortly after her flat and all her possessions were destroyed in an air raid. She wrote few short stories; this outstanding exception, which she described as 'unoriginal, but veracious (mainly)', was written at the request of Storm Jameson for London Calling."
In the story, Miss Anstruther's home has been hit by an incendiary bomb. "Her life had been cut in two on the night of 10 May 1941, so that she now felt herself a ghost, without attachments or habitation, neither of which she any longer desired". Already bereaved by the loss of her lover, she now loses her home as well. What she laments the most is that in the madness of the moment she returned to her apartment to grab what she could and when it's too late she realizes what she took are all possessions without any value, and when she tries to enter her apartment a second time even those things are stolen. What she valued most and lost were the letters her lover had sent her over a span of twenty years. She had been waiting to read them again until the pain she felt from his death was less sharp, and now they're gone. This was another excellent story in an excellent collection.
Many of the stories in Rudyard Kipling's Selected Stories are very short. So far the stories I've read have all dealt with Anglo-Indian life and I'm curious to see what other subject matter Kipling writes about. In "The Story of Muhammad Din" Muhammad Din is the son of the narrator's khitmatgar or 'table servant'. He's a young boy, "a tiny, plump figure in a ridiculously inadequate shirt, which came, perhaps, half-way down the tubby stomach" who has his eye on a polo-ball that belongs to the narrator. An unlikely friendship begins when the narrator gives the boy the polo-ball. Muhammad Din becomes a bit of a fixture in the house.
"From that day dated my acquaintance with Muhammad Din. Never again did he into my dining-room, but on the neutral ground of the garden, we greeted each other with much state, though our conversation was confined to 'Talaam, Tahib' from his side, and 'Salaam, Muhammad Din' from mine. Daily on my return from the office, the little white shirt, and the fat little body used to rise from the shade of the creeper-covered trellis where they had been hid; and daily I checked my horse here, that my salutation might not be slurred over or given unseemly."
It's a bittersweet story, however, as one day Muhammad Din is not there to greet him, and instead the narrator watches as the boy's father take the small body to the burying ground. He had died of a fever. I wasn't sure how I would react to Kipling's stories, but so far I've really enjoyed them, sad though they've been so far.
I also started reading another story in Susan Vreeland's Life Studies. I wrote about the first story in the collection here. Vreeland's stories are a bit longer than the rest I've read today (I've actually read more than I'm writing about), so I didn't quite finish it. I'm working on a story called "Cradle Song" about Berthe Morisot. A the center of each story is a painting. This story is a fictional account of the genesis of Morisot's Summer Day. The story isn't told from the perspective of the artist but of Morisot's young, provincial nurse caring the the artist's baby, Julie. Sylvie's own newborn son is still in the country with her mother and sister, while she tries to earn what money she can in Paris to send home.
I'm really enjoying each of these collections of stories. When I do pick them up I want to keep reading. It's just a matter of getting into the habit of picking up short stories more often than I do.