A 'nice place to stay' takes on a darker meaning in Nedra Tyre's 1970 short story "A Nice Place to Stay", which was originally published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. Once again this is a story where murderous intentions take on shades of gray rather than stark black and white. Tyre was a social worker and her fiction was influenced by her experiences. She wrote about her native South and her fiction was "deeply psychological and empathetic in nature." I have a feeling that the stories included in Sarah Weinman's collection are going to have a very different slant to them than the regular run of the mill crime story--domestic suspense, indeed.
"All my life I've wanted a nice place to stay. I don't mean anything grand, just a small room with the walls freshly painted and a few neat pieces of furniture and a window to catch the sun so that two or three pot plants could grow. That's what I've always dreamed of. I didn't yearn for love or money or nice clothes, though I was a pretty girl and pretty clothes would have made me prettier-not that I mean to brag."
Some people have all the luck, but not the narrator in this story, though she remains thoughtful and self-deprecating through it all. The loss of the family farm, the death of her father and gradual abandonment by her brothers leaves her alone with her mother. She's left to take care of her ailing parent and when she dies, too, her siblings are quick to take what little inheritance that is left to them. And so little keeps the narrator from life on the streets. She gets by as best she can, taking odd jobs when she can find them and living rough when she can't.
She rationalizes her theft of food by only taking what isn't ripe or shouldn't be sold in any case. If she helps herself to items from her employers the clothes are always the oldest pieces that would never be missed anyway. And occasionally someone takes pity on her and tries to help out or gives her some small gift. It's one small gift that will get her into trouble. And trouble results in a stay behind bars. Sadly, however, it's the time she spends in prison that fulfills her dreams. It is a nice place to stay--a warm bed, hot food and clothes all provided for her. For the first time in a long time she is happy and contented.
When the lawyer who should have gotten her off to begin with gets her released on appeal she is once again plunged into life on the streets. His meddling with only personal gain in mind means she has lost her nice place to stay. She is a woman driven to extremes, and I'll leave it up to you to imagine how she regains her warmth and comfort--at quite a steep price to pay.
Although not of the same caliber as Patricia Highsmith's story, Nedra Tyre's was quite interesting. A different take on the same old crime theme. It's not quite as edgy and not quite so cleverly told, it was still an entertaining way to pay a little afternoon reading time. Tyre wrote six crime novels and many short stories. Next week is one by Shirley Jackson, who always has an interesting take on life.
By the way, I'm trying to keep up with reading the short stories that appear in the New Yorker, which I am generally very bad at doing (hit or miss--and the paper copies get recycled since I always figure I have access to the magazine online). One of the main reasons I subscribe is for the stories, so I've got an unspoken goal in mind to read those as well each week. However, in my laziness I will not likely write about them in any depth here, though I hope to make note of them if only to keep track.
The January 6 issue has a story by Antonya Nelson, who is primarily a short story writer but whose work I have never read (though she has a number of collections published). You can read "First Husband" here and an interview with the author here. The story concerns a rather complicated extended family--divorces, remarriages, family ties to children which had not yet been yet are a drain on Lovey, the narrator of the story. It's quite realistic and has a very sympathetic young child named Caleb who is apparently a recurring character in her stories.
I have a feeling (if I keep up with my reading) I will be introduced to many new (to me anyway) writers and this will likely open yet more doors to reading opportunities! (Because you really can never have enough).