A twist of fate in Francis Wyndham's "The Half Brother" makes for a satisfying ending that gives the story a very nice and somewhat surprising balance. Once again this is as much a character study as a proper beginning-middle-and-ending sort of story. Wyndham has a knack for description-he paints vivid pictures of people and their little idiosyncrasies. The Complete Fiction of Francis Wyndham is made up of two different collections of short stories plus a novella in between. The stories in this first collection seem to be narrated by the same schoolboy--though his age and experience varies between stories--and some of the same characters move between stories as well.
Let's see if I can get this right. Jack is the narrator's half brother but he is closer in age to his mother than a brother. As a matter of fact his mother was the second wife of Jack's father, though she was much younger and one of Jack's contemporaries. A first impression of Jack?
"Jack 'did a Jack' and missed our father's funeral. He had taken his new girl to the Gargoyle Club the night before and had woken with such a monumental hangover that the train had left Paddington before he was out of bed."
To put it all in even sharper perspective--the girl was only seventeen, which made Jack quite proud since she had a most marvelous figure--"almost like a boy's". At issue in the story is a life-sized effigy of an ancient Egyptian god named Horus. A god of the sky, he was in the shape of a falcon (whose right eye was the Sun and the left the Moon). Made out of dark, rough stone he has a sinister look about him giving the narrator's mother the creeps. She asks her son to remove him from the house, which he does causing quite a kerfluffle when Jack finds out and throws what amounts to a massive hissy fit.
Aside from the statuette being the only thing amongst his father's things worth any value, it was something Jack associated fondly with his father (as much as someone like Jack can have a fondness for). When it was sold the narrator got all of a measly hundred pounds for it, and when Jack went in search of it to get it back he paid one hundred and ten pounds to return it to its rightful place in his own home.
The sale of the statuette and ensuing back and forth-ing of it is really all in service of showing Jack's personality off, I think. He's quite something of a character, and with the narrator being such an excellent observer the reader gets a first row seat and view into his life and personality. I won't ruin the story by telling you the twist (such as it is), but let me share a little more about Jack, since the narrator does such an admirable job in telling this story.
"Jack's dissipated past revealed itself in his face and made him look almost twenty years older than his age, but in spite of this there was still something boyish about him, both in behaviour and appearance. His candid enthusiasm, his ungovernable touchiness, retained an adolescent innocence; the clumsy movement of his bony body suggested the physical uncertainty of a child rather than the stumblings of an elderly party. Behind the benevolent beam, or offended scowl, of a grizzled patriarch, the short nose, wide smile and cleft chin evoked the attractive lad, cheeky and vulnerable by turns, that he must once have been."
I think every family must have at least one of these larger than life types in it. In one short story I know all about Jack--his failings and fortunes and quirks and successes. I am not sure I would necessarily like him but he makes for an interesting study. He is sort of a condescending prig telling the narrator:
" . . . I do believe that in modern socialist Britain it's essential to be technically equipped to earn your own living, to acquire some basic skill which is always going to be needed, whatever happens. Mightn't you take a course or something or other? I don't know what -- glass-blowing, or something? Think about it anyway. I know it's great fun sitting in the cinema all day but it doesn't really lead anywhere."
This makes the ending ever so much more satisfying.
Next week a longer short story called "Ursula".
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I am in the midst of reading my New Yorker story now, "The Duniazát" by Salman Rushdie, an author I am afraid I must admit I have never read. It has a 1001 Nights, fairy tale-ish feel to it. You can read the author's Q&A here and the story here.