October 2014 favorites


October 2014

The October stories ordered solely on my personal tastes.

  1. ‘Everything That Rises Must Converge’ by Flannery O’Connor
  2. ‘A Good Man Is Hard To Find’ by Flannery O’Connor
  3. ‘The River’ by Flannery O’Connor
  4. ‘A&P’ by John Updike
  5. ‘The Life You Save May Be Your Own’ by Flannery O’Connor
  6. ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ by Charlotte Perkins Stetson Gilman
  7. ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ by Edgar Allan Poe
  8. ‘Nilda’ by Junot Diaz
  9. ‘Young Goodman Brown’ by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  10. ‘The Lady’s Maid’s Bell’ by Edith Wharton
  11. ‘Luella Miller’ by Mary Wilkins Freeman
  12. ‘The Outcasts Of Poker Flat’ by Bret Harte
  13. ‘The Sutton Place Story’ by John Cheever
  14. ‘Premium Harmony’ by Stephen King
  15. ‘Paper Losses’ by Lorrie Moore
  16. ‘This Morning, This Evening, So Soon’ by James Baldwin
  17. ‘Three Players Of A Summer Game’ by Tennessee Williams
  18. ‘A Stroke Of Good Fortune’ by Flannery O’Connor
  19. ‘The Body Snatcher’ by Robert Louis Stevenson
  20. ‘Awake’ by Tobias Wolff
  21. ‘In Greenwich, There Are Many Gravelled Walks’ by Hortense Calisher
  22. ‘A Dark Brown Dog’ by Stephen Crane
  23. ‘Nothing Ever Breaks Except The Heart’ by Kay Boyle

‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ by Charlotte Perkins Stetson Gilman

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Stetson Gilman, 1892

The magic trick:

Perfectly building tension as the narrators condition worsens

It’s not really fair to close Halloween week here at SSMT with “The Yellow Wallpaper.” After all, restricting this story to the genre of spooky thriller is a little like calling “Moby Dick” a damn swell action-adventure novel.

Still, I think that side of the story is the magic trick I want to explore. Of course, the story is a hallmark of American feminist literature – devastatingly restrained and sarcastic. But I think it is important to appreciate it as, yes, a straight-up haunting tale.

It reminds me of Henry James’ “A Turn Of The Screw,” in the way the narrator is presented as fairly normal and reliable at the outset only to descend into madness (or at least perceived madness). That gradual descent is the magic trick I most admire here. The narrator’s psychological voice is never anything but completely believable and the result is truly horrifying. That horror, of course, is what allows the feminist point to be brought home even stronger. And that’s quite a trick on Gilman’s part.

The selection:

Life is very much more exciting now than it used to be. You see I have something more to expect, to look forward to, to watch. I really do eat better, and am more quiet than I was.

John is so pleased to see me improve! He laughed a little the other day, and said I seemed to be flourishing in spite of my wallpaper.

I turned it off with a laugh. I had no intention of telling him it was because of the wallpaper – he would make fun of me. He might even want to take me away.

I don’t want to leave now until I have found it out. There is a week more, and I think that will be enough.