I've been very slowly reading Sarah Orne Jewett's The Country of Pointed Firs, which is a novella-length collection of interlinked short stories. It has been an easy book to pick up and set down (and maybe too easy, as it has allowed me to set it down more often than not). The stories are not exactly short stories per se. They read more like sketches of a time and place. Like last week's A New England Nun there is a very strong regional flavor to the story.
"The Courting of Sister Wisby" is this week's selection from Fifty Great American Short Stories. I had not yet come to it in The Country of Pointed Firs, but I have no worries of it being pulled out of context. It stands quite nicely all on its own. The story is once again a story within a story--or rather Orne Jewett takes her time getting to the real subject of the story.
As in all the sketches in the novella, this story is told by an unnamed narrator, whose voice I like very much. The collection was originally published in 1896, and while the setting is distinctly of another time, there is a feeling, too, of everything happening in the now. Or maybe I just was amused by some of the things she reflected upon. I've noticed that all the sketches have a very strong element of the natural world to them. Of course the setting is the coast of Maine and I can easily imagine weather beaten rocky outcroppings in my mind as I read.
"This was one of those perfect New England days in late summer, when the spirit of Autumn takes a first stealthy flight, like a spy, through the ripening countryside, and, with feigned sympathy for those who droop with August heat, puts her cool cloak of bracing air about lead and flower and human shoulders."
I can feel it almost myself. I am ready for that cool, bracing air (just cool mind you, not cold). The narrator, who is a writer, decides to have a 'outdoor holiday' for the afternoon. She is a woman after my own heart.
". . . but I saw that somebody else had come first to the rendezvous; there was a brown gingham cape-bonnet and a sprigged shoulder-shawl bobbing up and down, a little way off among the junipers. I had taken such an uncommon pleasure in being alone that I felt a sense of disappointment; then a warm glow of pleasant satisfaction rebuked my selfishness. This could be no one but dear old Mrs. Goodsoe, the friend of my childhood and fond dependence of my maturer years. I had no seen her for many weeks, but here she was, out on one of her famous campaigns for herbs, or perhaps just returning from a blueberrying expedition."
I am more apt to be like the narrator rather than Mrs. Goodsoe as I am certainly no healer, but I like both women for their independence of spirit and mind. The two chat about this and that and pass a happy afternoon, so it takes a while for the story to come into sharper focus. Mrs. Goodsoe begins to tell about Mis' Deacon Brimblecom, or Lizy Wisby. It takes several promptings (as she tends to digress . . . ) to get Mrs. Goodsoe to tell the story of Lizy and her 'strange' marriage.
"The way he came a-courtin' o' Sister Wisby was this: she went a-courtin' o'him."
And Mrs. Goodsoe goes on to tell about the courting of the pair which is quirky and has a folksy slant to it. What must readers have thought of so many strong, opinionated woman at that time (though the narrator talks of being a 'modern woman' being a product of the times with those telegraph machines and cars!).
I fear I am reading the novella in too disjointed a fashion and will have ot reread it again sometime and a bit more closely.
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This week's (from the July 21 issue) New Yorker story is "Wagner in the Desert" by Greg Jackson, and it has one of the more 'seductive' opening paragraphs that I've come across. It will certainly draw you in and make you want to read more. I won't share it here (as you can read the story in full for yourself), but go take a peek at least and tell me what you think the story is about!
If we read to understand or to see the world in a different light or to even experience a world we wouldn't otherwise know, this one surely fits the bill on several counts. Two couples spend a (hmm, do I really want to tell you all and spoil it for you)? Okay (I will just give a teaser), two couples spend a weekend in Palm Springs--a weekend to remember as one of the pair are getting ready to take a big step in their lives and have something of a 'bucket-list' they want to work on before their lives become rather more staid. I'm not quite sure what I think of the story, but only because my life has so little resemblance to any of the characters, though maybe that is the beauty of it. I might otherwise shake my head, critical of their actions, but I could only sit back and watch and read in fascination. And I know somewhere in that wild weekend are a few of life's truths.
Next week: Maybe something by Edith Wharton--unless I need a little something different for a short break. I have a few other story collections that might appreciate a little attention.