April 2015 favorites


April 2015

The April stories ordered solely on my personal tastes.

  1. ‘Bullet In The Brain’ by Tobias Wolff
  2. ‘The Shawl’ by Cynthia Ozick
  3. ‘The Bath’ by Raymond Carver
  4. ‘The Five-Forty-Eight’ by John Cheever
  5. ‘The Living’ by Mary Lavin
  6. ‘Why Don’t You Dance?’ by Raymond Carver
  7. ‘Feathers’ by Raymond Carver
  8. ‘Death Of A Right Fielder’ by Stuart Dybek
  9. ‘Death Of A Traveling Salesman’ by Eudora Welty
  10. ‘Everything Stuck To Him’ by Raymond Carver
  11. ‘The Vertical Ladder’ by William Sansom
  12. ‘The Most Dangerous Game’ by Richard Connell
  13. ‘A Small, Good Thing’ by Raymond Carver
  14. ‘The Patented Gate And The Mean Hamburger’ by Robert Penn Warren
  15. ‘One Throw’ by W.C. Heinz
  16. ‘One Gram Short’ by Etgar Keret
  17. ‘Game’ by Donald Barthelme
  18. ‘Alibi Ike’ by Ring Lardner
  19. ‘Smoke’ by Michael Chabon
  20. ‘The Jewbird’ by Bernard Malamud
  21. ‘The Pitcher And The Plutocrat’ by P.G. Wodehouse
  22. ‘The Hitchhiking Game’ by Milan Kundera
  23. ‘Tony’s Wife’ by Alice Dunbar-Nelson
  24. ‘The Man Who Saw Through Heaven’ by Wilbur Daniel Steele

December 2014 favorites


December 2014

The December stories organized solely by my personal tastes.

  1. ‘Jeeves And The Yule-Tide Spirit’ by P.G. Wodehouse
  2. ‘The H Street Sledding Record’ by Ron Carlson
  3. ‘A Christmas Memory’ by Truman Capote
  4. ‘A Christmas Tree And A Wedding’ by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  5. ‘The Adventure Of The Blue Carbuncle’ by Arthur Conan Doyle
  6. ‘Christmas At Red Butte’ by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  7. ‘Christmas Eve’ by Maeve Brennan
  8. ‘One Christmas Eve’ by Langston Hughes
  9. ‘The Gift Of The Magi’ by O. Henry
  10. ‘Powder’ by Tobias Wolff
  11. ‘The Ledge’ by Lawrence Sargent Hall
  12. ‘A Child’s Christmas In Wales’ by Dylan Thomas
  13. ‘The Adventure Of The Christmas Pudding’ by Agatha Christie
  14. ‘The Christmas Wreck’ by Frank Stockton
  15. ‘At Christmas Time’ by Anton Chekhov
  16. ‘Christmas Day In The Morning’ by Pearl S. Buck
  17. ‘The Little Match Girl’ by Hans Christian Andersen
  18. ‘Markheim’ by Robert Louis Stevenson
  19. ‘Christmas Is A Sad Season For The Poor’ by John Cheever
  20. ‘The Burglar’s Christmas’ by Willa Cather
  21. ‘Papa Panov’s Special Christmas’ by Leo Tolstoy
  22. ‘The Beggar Boy At Christ’s Christmas Tree’ by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  23. ‘A New Year’s Gift’ by Guy de Maupassant
  24. ‘The Christmas Banquet’ by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  25. ‘The Best Christmas Ever’ by James Patrick Kelly
  26. ‘Christmas Eve’ by Guy de Maupassant

‘Jeeves And The Yule-Tide Spirit’ by P.G. Wodehouse

Wodehouse, P.G. 1927

Jeeves And The Yule-Tide Spirit by P.G. Wodehouse, 1927

The magic trick:

Manipulating the first-person narration to manage suspense and a surprise ending

We start a 25-day advent calendar of Christmas stories on SSMT with one of my all-time favorites.

Good ol’ Bertie Wooster is not exactly the smartest fellow. But even he knows what happens in this story. After all, he is the narrator and he is telling the story in the past tense. However, Wodehouse is very clever in how he uses Bertie to tell these Jeeves stories – this one in particular.

The humor is dependent on Jeeves manipulating the action, which of course means manipulating Bertie. This can create a problem in the unfolding of the story, however, given that, as mentioned, Bertie is telling the story in the past tense. That means Bertie has to be ignorant all over again – probably not all that difficult for him – as he tells the story. Otherwise, the reader would know the ending at the beginning, thus killing any suspense and comedy.

Perhaps I’m overanalyzing such a hilariously funny story. The story is funny because it’s funny and we should enjoy it for its funniness and move along on our way to a lovely holiday season. Probably, yes, this is true.

I do, though, think it’s important to note just how clever Wodehouse is. It’s not just his brilliant way with words. The plotting of this story is outstanding, and Bertie, almost in spite of himself, is one hell of a storyteller. And that’s quite a trick on Wodehouse’s part.

The selection:

“Jeeves,” I said, all of a twitter, “Do you know what? Sir Roderick Glossop is going to be at Lady Wickham’s.”

“Very good, sir. If you have finished breakfast, I will clear away.”

Cold and haughty. No symp. None of the rallying-round spirit which one likes to see. As I had anticipated, the information that we were not going to Monte Carlo had got in amongst him. There is a keen sporting streak in Jeeves, and I knew he had been looking forward to a little flutter at the tables.

We Woosters can wear the mask. I ignored his lack of decent feeling.

“Do so, Jeeves,” I said proudly, “and with all convenient speed.”

July 2014 favorites


July 2014

The July stories ordered solely on my personal tastes.

1.       ‘Hot Ice’ by Stuart Dybek
2.       ‘The Babysitter’ by Robert Coover
3.       ‘Jeeves And The Impending Doom’ by P.G. Wodehouse
4.       ‘A Solo Song: For Doc’ by James Alan McPherson
5.       ‘City Boy’ by Leonard Michaels
6.       ‘You’re Ugly, Too’ by Lorrie Moore
7.       ‘The Flats Road’ by Alice Munro
8.       ‘Greasy Lake’ by T. Coraghessan Boyle
9.       ‘Train’ by Joy Williams
10.     ‘Testimony Of Pilot’ by Barry Hannah
11.     ‘The Joy Luck Club’ by Amy Tan
12.    ‘Liars In Love’ by Richard Yates
13.     ‘How To Date A Brown Girl (Black Girl, White Girl, Or Halfie)’ by Junot Diaz
14.    ‘A Poetics For Bullies’ by Stanley Elkin
15.     ‘Greenwich Time’ by Ann Beattie
16.     ‘Pretty Ice’ by Mary Robison
17.     ‘Lechery’ by Jayne Anne Phillips
18.     ‘Here Come The Maples’ by John Updike
19.     ‘Territory’ by David Leavitt
20.     ‘Bridging’ by Max Apple
21.     ‘The Circling Hand’ by Jamaica Kincaid
22.     ‘Are These Actual Miles?’ by Raymond Carver
23.     ‘The Other Wife’ by Colette
24.     ‘A.V. Laider’ by Max Beerbohm
25.     ‘White Rat’ by Gayl Jones
26.     ‘Search Through The Streets Of The City’ by Irwin Shaw
27.     ‘The Dead Man’ by Horacio Quiroga
28.     ‘A Life In The Day Of A Writer’ by Tess Slesinger
29.     ‘In The Heart Of The Heart Of The Country’ by William Gass
30.     ‘The Indian Uprising’ by Donald Barthelme
31.     ‘The Facts Of Life’ by Somerset Maugham

‘Jeeves And The Impending Doom’ by P.G. Wodehouse

Wodehouse, P.G. 1926

Jeeves And The Impending Doom by P.G. Wodehouse, 1926

The magic trick:

Mastering the art of situation comedy

Entire books could be devoted to exploring the genius that is the Bertie Wooster first-person narration in Wodehouse’s Jeeves stories. But, as I plan to highlight other Jeeves stories in the future on this blog, I will save that talk for a later date, instead focusing today on a point that is very specific to this story.

“The Impending Doom” features one of the great comic set pieces of Wodehouse’s career. I laughed and I laughed and I laughed when I first read this story, to the point of having to set the book down for a few minutes before I could compose myself enough to read on. Yes, it’s that funny. The language, as always, is brilliantly hilarious, but the scenario Wodehouse concocts here really is the show stealer. I will not go into details for fear of ruining it for the uninitiated. Sufficed to say, it involves “Treasure Island,” a rain storm, and a rather angry swan. It is the world’s funniest sitcom episode and it was written before there were such things. And that’s quite a trick on Wodehouse’s part.

The selection:

“But, good heavens, Jeeves! If I remember Treasure Island, Flint was the bird who went about hitting people with a cutlass. You don’t think young Thomas would bean Mr. Filmer with a cutlass?”

“Possibly he does not possess a cutlass, sir.”

“Well, with anything.”

“We can but wait and see, sir. The tie, if I might suggest it, sir, a shade more tightly knotted. One aims at the perfect butterfly effect. If you will permit me –“

“What do ties matter, Jeeves, at a time like this? Do you realize that Mr. Little’s domestic happiness is hanging in the scale?”

“There is no time, sir, at which ties do not matter.”