Saturday, April 09, 2005

"The Upturned Face" by Stephen Crane

In this tale of war and death and duty, two officers confront the need to bury a dead comrade. Read by Martha Collins.

It's quite likely you read either The Red Badge of Courage or The Open Boat in school--and you may remember that Stephen Crane, though he wrote so realistically of the Civil War, was involved in the Spanish-American War instead. (This story takes place during an imaginary war in an unknown land.) Even though he died before he reached thirty, Crane had already revolutionized poetry and fiction with a style which still sounds shockingly modern to us today. Though beloved by many other authors and journalists, Crane was hounded by gossips, retreated to England, and succumbed to tuberculosis in Germany.

Martha Collins divides her time between Massachusetts and Ohio, where she teaches at Oberlin. Not only is she the author of four poetry collections, but she has also translated two volumes from Vietnamese, most recently Green Rice by Lam Thi My Da. Blue Front, a book-length poem, is forthcoming from Graywolf Press in 2006. Contrary to rumor, she is not an international spy, nor has she ever danced with Martha Graham or starred in James Bond films.

Friday, April 08, 2005

"Signs and Symbols" by Vladimir Nabokov

An elderly couple, recent immigrants to America, go to see their mentally imbalanced son in his asylum, but discover that he has once again tried to take his own life. Dejected, they return home to contemplate their loss... and then the phone rings. It sounds simple, and it is--but isn't. Read by Scoot.

In our minds the greatest writer of the twentieth and almost any other century, Vladimir Nabokov was himself an émigré from Russia to America, where he wrote this story in English, a language he had excelled in since childhood. If you've read Lolita, don't stop there, and don't ignore his short stories, where some of his best writing lies. At the very least, this small story definitely disproves the idea that he was a cold, detached writer.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

"What are You Doing in My Dreams?" by Dawn Powell

Go on, now--run away from home. When they drag you back, try again. And again. So what if you're a little girl from a small town in Ohio who's set her sights on the bright lights of New York City. If you try hard enough, you'll get there--even if you can't leave all your memories behind with your old dolls. Read by Monique Saint Amant.

Much like the character in this story from 1952, Dawn Powell was a girl who just had to get out of her constrained home town and make the big time. Well, she never quite made the big time, but she did write and publish a great deal, despite failures and setbacks and alcoholism and poverty. Though frustrated with the literary establishment during her lifetime, Dawn Powell wrote on--and her works have recently been revived and celebrated. Not bad for a little girl from Ohio.

Monique Saint Amant has been an actress, brick mason, radio DJ, computer specialist, rock musician, businesswoman, model, and writer--and probably much more, if we only knew; despite it all she's quite modest. Lived all over the place, done most everything. She should write a book, right?

"The House of Asterion" by Jorge Luis Borges

In case you can't fully recall your Greek mythology, Asterion (or Asterios) was the son of the witch queen Pasiphae (wife of the Cretan king Minos) and a bull she happened to fall in love with. Asterion lived in an ingenious building constructed by the inventor Daedalus and spent his free time consuming innocent youths until Thesus put a stop to that nasty habit. Oh, yes, Asterion was also known as the Minotaur. This version of the story was translated by Andrew Hurley. Read by Scoot.

Undoubtedly one of the most important and influential writers of the last or any other century, Jorge Luis Borges is one of our two very favorite writers here at "Stories to Go" (the other one is coming up soon--can you guess who?). This Argentinian had such a vivid imagination and played such cunning games with mythology, philosophy, and history that we should probably just stop everything right now to study his dozens of stories one more time. Will you join us?

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

"Miss Brill" by Katherine Mansfield

Poor Miss Brill! She's stuck inside the confines of a Katherine Mansfield story, leading the frustrated, unfulfilled life of a Mansfield woman. Even attending a public concert can bring Miss Brill no lasting joy--and people will talk behind one's back so! Read by Denise Donnelly.

Biographical sketches of Katherine Mansfield invariably must point out how she was born and raised in New Zealand, sought the writing life in England, trysted with John Middleton Murray, and died painfully young and not quite fulfilled. This sketch will be no different. But we do want to remind everyone what an achingly beautiful writer of short stories she was, how she expressed even fleeting joy better than the best can express lasting sorrow, and how through it all she was able to keep one hand to the pen and one to her mouth, just barely stifling the grin that often flickered there.

This is Denise Donnelly's second contribution to these pages, and we wish to thank her for her patience and generosity. We hope that now you will search her name at your local bookstore.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

"The Short Happy Life of Henrietta" by Evan S. Connell

Quite possibly a sort of tribute to Ernest Hemingway not just in title, Connell's story is similar in its abrupt violence and mordant sense of humor. Cruel to Arabs, very cruel to naive Nebraskans, this tiny tale of murder in the Bois de Boulogne is not at all typical of most of Connell's work, except perhaps in its sly artistry. Read by Scoot.

Known to many fans as the author of the psychologically revealing novels Mrs. Bridge and Mrs. Bridge and the historical study Son of the Morning Star, Evan S. Connell is another Midwesterner who found himself living in France in the 1950s (we think). Connell also has written much more experimental prose-poetry and a whole slew of incisive short stories. It's too bad that despite having loved his work for a long time we still know so little about him--probably he likes it that way.

"A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" by Ernest Hemingway

In a clean, well-lighted cafe, late at night and just before closing time, the waiters and an old man debate life and death in a most Hemingwayesque manner. Read by Neil Miller.

This is one of Ernest Hemingway's most famous short stories, a typical example of his terse yet tender style, simmering with violence just beneath the surface. The author's adventurous, peripatetic life took him from Illinois to France to Florida to Cuba to Idaho, and a lot of places in between. This story was first published when he was living in Key West.

Neil Miller is an award-winning writer who teaches journalism at Tufts University; his last book is Sex Crime Panic, quite possibly set to become a major motion picture. He is currently working on a book about the discovery of a huge cavern system in Arizona.