August 2014 favorites


August 2014

The August stories ordered solely on my personal tastes.

  1. ‘Bright And Morning Star’ by Richard Wright
  2. ‘Symbols And Signs’ by Vladimir Nabokov
  3. ‘The Chrysanthemums’ by John Steinbeck
  4. ‘Free Fruit For Young Widows’ by Nathan Englander
  5. ‘The School’ by Donald Barthelme
  6. ‘The Night The Bed Fell’ by James Thurber
  7. ‘My First Goose’ by Isaac Babel
  8. ‘The Wood Duck’ by James Thurber
  9. ‘The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty’ by James Thurber
  10. ‘The Fireman’s Wife’ by Richard Bausch
  11. ‘The Killers’ by Ernest Hemingway
  12. ‘In The Penal Colony’ by Franz Kafka
  13. ‘He’ by Katherine Anne Porter
  14. ‘The Rich Brother’ by Tobias Wolff
  15. ‘Lovers Of The Lake’ by Sean O’Faolain
  16. ‘First Love’ by Vladimir Nabokov
  17. ‘The Mysterious Kor’ by Elizabeth Bowen
  18. ‘Thirst’ by Ivo Andric
  19. ‘In Another Country’ by Ernest Hemingway
  20. ‘The Iron City’ by Lovell Thompson
  21. ‘Dusky Ruth’ by A.E. Coppard
  22. ‘The Odour Of Chrysanthemums’ by D.H. Lawrence
  23. ‘The Door’ by E.B. White
  24. ‘The Camberwell Beauty’ by V.S. Pritchett
  25. ‘The Fly’ by Katherine Mansfield
  26. ‘Christ In Concrete’ by Pietro di Donato
  27. ‘American Express’ by James Salter
  28. ‘The Piano’ by Anibal Monteiro Machado
  29. ‘The Greatest Man In The World’ by James Thurber
  30. ‘Men’ by Kay Boyle
  31. ‘A Couple Of Hamburgers’ by James Thurber

‘The Piano’ by Anibal Monteiro Machado

machado, anibal 1944

The Piano by Anibal Monteiro Machado, 1944

The magic trick:

Writing a funny scene by creating an expectation of normalcy and then delivering the opposite result

I did not wholly enjoy this story. I found its comments on freedom and tradition were too unfocused to really hit the mark. However, I loved the moments of humor. Machado has an almost-Wodehousian way with a simile, and one scene in particular had me howling with laughter.

A family has advertised their old piano for sale in the newspaper and attracted a group of prospective buyers who have gathered in the room with the piano when young girl sits down and starts playing. Machado has set up an expectation both in the room and with the reader. We all, together, expect the piano to sound wonderful. After all, the family advertised the instrument as a luxurious antique. And then the girl plays… The way Machado describes the sound is wonderful and, because the result is totally counter to what we (the reader and the characters in attendance) expected, the scene is a little piece of comedic genius. And that’s quite a trick on Machado’s part.

The selection:

It was a jury trial and the piano was the accused. The young girl continued to play, as if she were wringing a confession from it. The timbre suggested that of a decrepit, cracked-voiced soprano with stomach trouble. Some of the notes did not play at all. Doli joined in with her barking, a bitch’s well-considered verdict. A smile passed around the room. No one was laughing, however. The girl seemed to be playing now out of pure malice, hammering at the dead keys and emphasizing the cacophony. It was a dreadful situation.