Porter's reputation as one of americanca's most distinguished writers rests chiefly on her superb short stories. This volume includes the collections Flowering Judas; Pale Horse, Pale Rider; and The Leaning Tower as well as four stories not available elsewhere in book form. Winner of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.
There are some writers who work within this genre who stand out for me - James Joyce, Raymond Carver, Ernest Hemingway, Ellen Gilchrist, & Alice Adams. All of these writers have the ability to encapsulate a moment in time that makes reading them a pleasure. I'm going to add Katherine Anne Porter to my list.
Porter's writing is a bit formal, but that works within the context of what she is doing with it. Her stories capture their characters within the frame of the story, but effortlessly acknowledge that there is a life that happens outside of that frame. I loved that I got a true sense of the before & after lives of these characters & that I cared.
This collection is also wonderful for the reason all collections like that are wonderful - you really get to see the maturation of the writer through their writing. In this regard short story writers probably have the advantage. It took me a bit over a year to read all of Iris Murdoch, this was substantially quicker.
I don't know that I'll go on to become an enormous reader of short stories, but I'm glad I read these. They were beautiful & satisfying in their own way & that's what good reading is all about, right?
I am not generally a fan of short stories. I like to commit to my literature and short stories tend to feel like a summer fling that was over before I was able to analyze it to death and suck all of the fun out it.
I especially dislike collections of short stories because even the best authors' voices come through in them. While I typically like to feel as though I can hear an author's voice, when it happens during a book of 30 of their short stories and it's the same author with different stories, I get confused, partially due to the fact that I'm extremely dumb and partially due to the fact that they almost always center around the same themes or characters who hail from similar backgrounds and locations.
This was not the case with Katherine Anne Porter. Every one of these stories was completely different in style, voice, content and characterization and every one of the stories was brilliant. It helped that many of them were over 50 pages long (one was over 100). The length allowed me to get to know the characters as intimately as I wanted.
All in all, this was a fantastic book from a writer who is not only talented but extremely versatile as well.
Virgin Violeta - the bitter clash of fantasy and reality in coming-of-age.
The Martyr - contrasts in perception/reputation before and after death.
Rope - a perfect capturing of petty marital bickering.
He - the convenience of adopting others' biases.
The Jilting of Granny Weatherall - death bed regrets.
The Cracked Looking Glass - a kinder, gentler Madame Bovary story.
Old Mortality - the past as family legend, gossip, or the tiresome memories of a prior generation.
Noon Wine - consequences for caring "how things look"; study Mr Thompson.
Pale Horse, Pale Rider - journalist vs metaphorical horsemen of the apocalypse.
The Old Order - Tennyson, "The old order changes, yielding place to new." Contrasts generations; comprised of several shorter stories.
The Downward Path to Wisdom - the mis-rearing of a young child.
A Day's Work - balanced view of a dysfunctional marriage.
Holiday - an unexpected personal connection.
The Leaning Tower - an American finds 1931 Berlin to be fragile and vulnerable.
Whenever my sweetheart says "Carveresque," I think of the author standing at the head of a fully-laden Thanksgiving table, long fork and knife in hand, cutting up a manuscript. Talking about short stories the other evening and he suggested Porter's "Rope" as a portrait of a relationship pared down with a super sharp scalpel, and he wasn't kidding -- it's down to the bone. I've got this on my desk now, and will be dipping in. These don't seem like the kind of stories to sit down and read straight through.
Huh... can't put up multiple reviews, but I can edit this one indefinitely, is that it? OK - next story, then.
"Flowering Judas" is disconcerting from the first sentence. She drops right you into the middle of it running, and once you've figured out what's going on you see what strangers all the characters are to themselves and each other, everyone wanting the wrong things. Which makes it about guilt and displaced desire, I guess. It's a house of mirrors of a story, weird surfaces to everything. Really good.
Jeez, I didn't even get around to writing about "Pale Horse, Pale Rider." Another review for another time, then.