You've probably had this same experience. You're reading a book, seeing the words, turning the pages and then think about what is going on and realize you have absorbed very little of what you've read. Flip back and start over or skim and see if you pick up the thread. It might be a case of a really difficult read, or it might be there are just too many other things going through your mind and not being able to take in the story. In the case of this weekend's short story, I think it was a combination of the two.
I might need a little break from Fifty Great American Short Stories. Then again the next three stories (finally) are by women writers, so maybe I'll press on next weekend. But this weekend's story by Henry James, "The Two Faces", just didn't seep into my brain. I blame it on the weather--the heat and humidity. Normally I get lots of reading done while walking on my treadmill, but the unpleasant weather made me hot and cranky and sweaty and poor Henry James just could not compete.
Now normally this is a story that would be up my alley. It's set in a British country house. There's a party of people in attendance including a newly married couple, and a matron of Society who agrees to take the young woman under her wing, but some sort of social gaffe occurs. I completely missed it. To be honest I had to dig around online to find a little plot summary to get to the 'aahhh, so that's it' moment. At least it sounds as though the twist of the story was never overtly described, so maybe I took in more than I thought. In a nutshell--do you know the story of Dangerous Liaisons by Choderlos de Laclos? You know the nasty business of a spurned lover and general wickedness trying to play games with a pair of young lovers? While this is not quite the same, it turns of the same premise. There was an accepted love affair going on but then the pair broke it off and one of the two decided to take it out on the other and when a new paramour discovers the nasty business decides maybe a possible attachment might be better avoided. Well, more or less.
Now that I know what it's about, I think I might have to try it again.
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But I did read another short story that was quite entertaining, easy to read and went at just about the right speed that I needed to deal with the heat. I really do need to avoid the aisle that has books in it when buying groceries. I had two in hand and put one back, so maybe I shouldn't feel too guilty. I had never come across Grand Central: Original Stories of Postwar Love and Reunion edited by Kristin Hannah, but I was intrigued by the idea so had to have it. These are original stories by ten authors which take as their inspiration one day in September in 1945 with Grand Central Station in New York featured somewhere in each story.
I've only read the first story so far, "Going Home" by Alyson Richman. It's a story of two European immigrants who have been displaced by the war--far from their original homes and without their families. Gregori is a young violinist who earns a bit of money by busking in the train station. Liesel is a seamstress in NY but in Czechoslovakia had begun a career as a dancer. Gregori sees her each day as she makes her way to work and tries to catch her attention with his music.
I think this would make a perfect beach read or book to have in hand while traveling. I am not expecting to be thrown any curve balls with this collection, just nice, entertaining stories with a hint of romance. And sometimes that's just what you need. While I likely won't write about each of the stories (or perhaps in one or two posts only), I think I'll keep reading one or two stories a week. By the way Alyson Richman's most recent novel is The Lost Wife set in WWII-era Prague.
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I'm afraid I've run out of time this afternoon for my weekly New Yorker story, which is Allegra Goodman's "Apple Cake". Hopefully I will get to it tonight, though it sounds like the subject matter is on the heavier side--the death of a 74-year-old woman. Feel free to read along with me as it is one you can read online. The Q&A with Goodman is here. Another author I have long wanted to read. I have at least two of her books on my shelves.
Next week's short story? Maybe something by Mary Wilkins Freeman. Or maybe something else entirely.