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

‘Christ In Concrete’ by Pietro di Donato

Di Donato, Pietro 1938

Christ In Concrete by Pietro di Donato, 1938

The magic trick:

Painfully descriptive writing about the construction accident

The Christian symbols and metaphors in the story are laid on a bit thick for my tastes. Those, to be sure, are the showcase literary motif at play here. What I want to talk about instead is the writing in the final section of the story, the description of the construction accident. These scenes are drawn in remarkable detail, and it’s emotional detail too. Di Donato takes the reader into the minds of various construction workers during their horrifying final moments as the building collapses. He does not hold back. Many of the images are incredibly gruesome, which only adds to the power of his psychological descriptions.

Di Donato’s real-life father was killed in such an accident, so without doubt this material is close to the author’s heart. The quality and passion he pours into the building-collapse section of the story certainly betray that connection. And that’s quite a trick on di Donato’s part.

The selection:

He paused exhausted. His genitals convulsed. The cold steel rod upon which they were impaled froze his spine. He shouted louder and louder. “Save me! I am hurt badly! I can be saved, I can – save me before it’s too late!” But the cries went no farther than his own ears. The icy wet concrete reached his chin. His heart was appalled. “In a few seconds I shall be entombed. If I can only breathe, they will reach me. Surely they will!” His face was quickly covered, its flesh yielding to the solid, sharp-cut stones. “Air! Air!” screamed his lungs as he was completely sealed.