Louise by Somerset Maugham, 1925 Continue reading
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
The Facts Of Life by Somerset Maugham, 1939
The magic trick:
Providing a counterpoint to the world of P.G. Wodehouse
This is pleasant, light-hearted comedy; fluff, if you will. Problem is, it’s not really all that funny. I wouldn’t even say it’s all that pleasant, as the father and son at the heart of the story prove fairly unlikeable. Meanwhile, Maugham’s writing never veers far enough in any one direction – sympathetic or satirical – to make any kind of larger point.
So what’s the magic trick? Well, as a longtime fan of P.G. Wodehouse, fiction, such as “The Facts Of Life,” providing a window into the world of early 20th century upper-crust English society, is very helpful. It’s easy to feel like Wodehouse created out of whole cloth an absurdist universe of his own. Look at all these goofy rich people playing Baccarat, obsessively worrying about their reputations. Surely, that can’t be real.
Ah, but it was real. Maugham approaches the same world with a greater sense of reality, albeit still with a comic touch. The story, on its own, doesn’t do much for me. But as a means toward even greater appreciation of Wodehouse’s gentle satirical bite, “The Facts Of Life” works wonders. And that’s quite a trick on Maugham’s part.
The players were protected from the thronging bystanders by a brass rail; they sat round the table, nine on each side, with the dealer in the middle and the croupier facing him. Big money was changing hands. The dealer was a member of the Greek Syndicate. Nicky looked at his impassive face. His eyes were watchful, but his expression never changed whether he won or lost. It was a terrifying, strangely impressive sight. It gave Nicky, who had been thriftily brought up, a peculiar thrill to see someone risk a thousand pounds on the turn of a card and when he lost make a little joke and laugh. It was all terribly exciting.