I had a bit of a short story reading extravaganza this weekend. Some I liked more than other, which is not too surprising really. I am still greatly enjoying Mary Costello's collection, The China Factory, and am officially at the halfway mark. I love her writing but I must say all the stories I have read have a strong thread of melancholy running through them. They seem to be primarily about relationships, some happier than others but mostly about disappointments and missed opportunities.
In "The Falling Sickness" the death of a first husband brings back painful memories of the accidental death of their young son. It seems that so often the death of a child will either bring the parents closer together or force them irretrievably apart. It was just a momentary lapse. Just one short second of letting go of a hand and a car unable to stop and lives are changed forever. Many years and a divorce later the husband falls while mountain climbing and there is just the tiniest hint or question about whether it truly was a simple accident. A healthy man who is well trained and experienced falls to his death, but the ex-wife knows the guilt he carried with him over the years. Perhaps the affair that put a dramatic end to the relationship weighs heavily on the mind, too. And then the wife, now remarried and moved on to a new life, looks out over the congregation and wonders if the woman who so boldly called during their time of grief is there at the funeral, too.
"Sleeping with a Stranger" is another story, though more directly this time, about infidelity. Two chance encounters. Was the first a setup for the second. Was that moment of two souls passing destined to be inevitably the fulfillment of one man's earlier desires. And for the woman, is it life's disappointments that grind her down and allow it to eventually happen? Simple acceptance? The man is a school official on his way to make a teaching inspection. As it turns out a woman he sees on the side of the road looking at t dead fox is the teacher he is coming to review. His marriage is not an unhappy one. He knows he has given his wife everything--every day, all the quotidian moments and even after death their bones will mingle together in the grave. Yet that one lapse. That one moment of unfaithfulness is his own that he will not share with her. Does it count for everything or nothing at all he wonders.
It can be hard not being judgemental when it comes to cheating spouses. In cases of infidelity it always seems to easy to assign blame, but it is the mastery of Costello's storytelling that makes those black and white thoughts turn markedly grey. It is hard to see those unfaithful spouses as anything but human. Flawed and with failures, yet not bad people. Just glitches on an otherwise calm radar.
I did manage to read Belle Marshall Locke's story "The Hiartville Shakespeare" club, which is one of the weekly freebie Library of America stories. It was light and amusing and just the right sort of story to offer a little comic relief after a couple of heavier stories. It pokes gentle fun (in a guffaw-inducing manner) at those turn-of-the-century Shakespeare literary clubs that had become so popular at the time. It is quite a satirical story about a group of young ladies preparing to have a performance of Shakespeare monologues and dramatic scenes to be performed for the benefit of the "crippled foot-ball players" (who I am very sure would appreciate an afternoon of Shakespeare, right?). The ladies decide that they must have a proper rehearsal which results in banged heads and scratched limbs, a sprained ankle and other sundry cuts and bruises. But the show must go on, and the rehearsal proceeds until each girl is nursing some hurt or other. The club president remarks that "football may be dangerous, but it's a baby's game compared to Shakespeare!
And I even managed to read this week's (May 9 issue) New Yorker short story by John L'Heureux, "Three Short Moments in a Long Life" which is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek look at the "mysteries" of a long life (so long that the mysteries are perhaps not so mysterious at the end). The moments shared are during youth, middle age and near the end of a long life, a life maybe that has ended up being too long. You can read the author's Q&A here. It feels good to get back to my New Yorker stories. Maybe I can get back on track once again. I only ran out of time to read one of the Vintage Shorts that I downloaded and mentioned to you. Something to look forward to reading this week!