January 2017 favorites

january2017

January 2017

The January stories ordered solely on my personal tastes.

  1. ‘The Promise’ by John Steinbeck
  2. ‘A Loaf Of Bread’ by James Alan McPherson
  3. ‘The Necklace’ by Guy de Maupassant
  4. ‘The Emerald Light In The Air’ by Donald Antrim
  5. ‘The Adventure Of The Empty House’ by Arthur Conan Doyle
  6. ‘Coach’ by Mary Robison
  7. ‘Smother’ by Joyce Carol Oates
  8. ‘Most Die Young’ by Camille Bordas
  9. ‘Permission To Enter’ by Zadie Smith
  10. ‘The Peasant Marey’ by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  11. ‘An Honest Thief’ by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  12. ‘Game Plan’ by Don DeLillo
  13. ‘Two Men Arrive In A Village’ by Zadie Smith
  14. ‘A Novel In Nine Letters’ by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  15. ‘The Crocodile’ by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  16. ‘One Officer, One Man’ by Ambrose Bierce
  17. ‘Escape From New York’ by Zadie Smith
  18. ‘Rest Stop’ by Stephen King
  19. ‘Moonlit Landscape With Bridge’ by Zadie Smith
  20. ‘Bobok’ by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  21. ‘Meet The President!’ by Zadie Smith

As always, join the conversation in the comments section below, on SSMT Facebook or on Twitter @ShortStoryMT.

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November 2016 favorites

november2016

November 2016

The November stories ordered solely on my personal tastes.

  1. ‘The Tree Line, Kansas, 1934’ by David Means
  2. ‘The Gift’ by John Steinbeck
  3. ‘Dance Of The Happy Shades’ by Alice Munro
  4. ‘Gloomy Tune’ by Grace Paley
  5. ‘Mastiff’ by Joyce Carol Oates
  6. ‘The Contest’ by Grace Paley
  7. ‘At The Bay’ by Katherine Mansfield
  8. ‘War Dances’ by Sherman Alexie
  9. ‘The Shining Houses’ by Alice Munro
  10. ‘An Honest Woman’ by Ottessa Moshfegh
  11. ‘Night Women’ by Edwidge Danticat
  12. ‘A Presidential Candidate’ by Mark Twain
  13. ‘Wants’ by Grace Paley
  14. ‘Love’ by Grace Paley
  15. ‘Debts’ by Grace Paley

July 2016 favorites

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July 2016

The July stories ordered solely on my personal tastes.

  1. ‘Blight’ by Stuart Dybek
  2. ‘The Lesson’ by Jessamyn West
  3. ‘Pet Milk’ by Stuart Dybek
  4. ‘Nachman’ by Leonard Michaels
  5. ‘A Day In The Country’ by Anton Chekhov
  6. ‘The Bet’ by Anton Chekhov
  7. ‘Mr. Parker’ by Laurie Colwin
  8. ‘Bottle Caps’ by Stuart Dybek
  9. ‘The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas’ by Ursula K. Le Guin
  10. ‘The Valiant Woman’ by J.F. Powers
  11. ‘Chopin In Winter’ by Stuart Dybek
  12. ‘The Leader Of The People’ by John Steinbeck
  13. ‘Fat And Thin’ by Anton Chekhov
  14. ‘Farwell’ by Stuart Dybek
  15. ‘The Lottery Ticket’ by Anton Chekhov
  16. ‘The Writer’s Trade’ by Nicholas Delbanco
  17. ‘Chameleon’ by Anton Chekhov

What do you think about this list? As always, join the conversation in the comments section below, on SSMT Facebook or on Twitter @ShortStoryMT.

November 2015 favorites

November2015

November 2015

The November stories ordered solely on my personal tastes.

  1. ‘A Conversation With My Father’ by Grace Paley
  2. ‘The Warm Fuzzies’ by Chris Adrian
  3. ‘Kid MacArthur’ by Stephanie Vaughn
  4. ‘Kneel To The Rising Sun’ by Erskine Caldwell
  5. ‘Over The River And Through The Wood’ by John O’Hara
  6. ‘We’re On TV In The Universe’ by Stephanie Vaughn
  7. ‘Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog’ by Stephanie Vaughn
  8. ‘I Bought A Little City’ by Donald Barthelme
  9. ‘Sweet Talk’ by Stephanie Vaughn
  10. ‘Yao’s Chick’ by Max Apple
  11. ‘The Battle Of Fallen Timbers’ by Stephanie Vaughn
  12. ‘Collectors’ by Daniel Alarcon
  13. ‘The Great Mountains’ by John Steinbeck
  14. ‘Last Day In The Field’ by Caroline Gordon
  15. ‘Ann Mary; Her Two Thanksgivings’ by Mary Wilkins Freeman
  16. ‘Business Talk’ by Max Apple
  17. ‘Theft’ by Katherine Anne Porter
  18. ‘Zelig’ by Benjamin Rosenblatt
  19. ‘Brothers And Sisters Around The World’ by Andrea Lee
  20. ‘The Kitchen Baby’ by Angela Carter
  21. ‘The Best Girlfriend You Never Had’ by Pam Houston
  22. ‘Cinnamon’ by Neil Gaiman

August 2014 favorites

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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 Chrysanthemums’ by John Steinbeck

Steinbeck, John 1938

The Chrysanthemums by John Steinbeck, 1938

The magic trick:

Saying enough and not too much

At story’s outset we have a woman, her face described as “lean and strong,” happily tending her chrysanthemums. By story’s end, the same woman is in tears, described as “like an old woman.” What happened? Read the story, you still might not know. Steinbeck isn’t spelling anything out for anyone. The changes wrought are dramatic, but the action along the way is subtle. The story demands analysis and interpretation. And that’s the magic trick. That’s the amazing thing about this story. Steinbeck provides the sketch of a woman, of a life, of a conflict; but allows the reader the space to fill in the colors.

Personally, I read the story as a portrait of a woman not necessarily unhappy in love but rather in desperate need to expand beyond the boundaries of the quiet life necessitated by her gender. She tries to share her passion (in the form of the chrysanthemums), and the wider world (in the form of the traveling repairman) quickly dismisses the attempt (in the form of the side of the road). These themes, in some ways, recall Wilbur Daniel Steele’s “How Beautiful With Shoes.”

But who cares what I think? That’s the beauty of the story. It strikes the perfect balance between the said and the unsaid, valuing each individual interpretation. And that’s quite a trick on Steinbeck’s part.

The selection:

“You sleep right in the wagon?” Elisa asked.

“Right in the wagon, ma’am. Rain or shine I’m dry as a cow in there.”

“It must be nice,” she said. “It must be very nice. I wish women could do such things.”

“It ain’t the right kind of a life for a woman.”

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Her upper lip raised a little, showing her teeth. “How do you know? How can you tell?” she said.