June 2014 favorites

june2014

June 2014

The June stories ordered solely on my personal tastes.

  1. ‘Venus, Cupid, Folly And Time’ by Peter Taylor
  2. ‘Blackberry Winter’ by Robert Penn Warren
  3. ‘Babylon Revisited’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  4. ‘Upon The Sweeping Flood’ by Joyce Carol Oates
  5. ‘Good Country People’ by Flannery O’Connor
  6. ‘My Old Man’ by Ernest Hemingway
  7. ‘I’m A Fool’ by Sherwood Anderson
  8. ‘Sonny’s Blues’ by James Baldwin
  9. ‘Only The Dead Know Brooklyn’ by Thomas Wolfe
  10. ‘Double Birthday’ by Willa Cather
  11. ‘The View From The Balcony’ by Wallace Stegner
  12. ‘The Magic Barrel’ by Bernard Malamud
  13. ‘No Place For You, My Love’ by Eudora Welty
  14. ‘The Schreuderspitze’ by Mark Helprin
  15. ‘The Hartleys’ by John Cheever
  16. ‘O City Of Broken Dreams’ by John Cheever
  17. ‘A Day In The Open’ by Jane Bowles
  18. ‘The Lottery’ by Shirley Jackson
  19. ‘In The Zoo’ by Jean Stafford
  20. ‘The Lost Phoebe’ by Theodore Dreiser
  21. ‘Welcome To The Monkey House’ by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
  22. ‘How Beautiful With Shoes’ by Wilbur Daniel Steele
  23. ‘The Little Wife’ by William March
  24. ‘A Distant Episode’ by Paul Bowles
  25. ‘The Faithful Wife’ by Morley Callaghan
  26. ‘The Golden Honeymoon’ by Ring Lardner
  27. ‘Resurrection Of A Life’ by William Saroyan
  28. ‘The State Of Grace’ by Harold Brodkey
  29. ‘A Telephone Call’ by Dorothy Parker
  30. ‘The Survivors’ by Elsie Singmaster

‘Resurrection Of A Life’ by William Saroyan

saroyan, william 1935

Resurrection Of A Life by William Saroyan, 1935

The magic trick:

Tripping back and forth between first and third person to tell his personal narrative

Elsewhere on this blog, you can find me losing patience with Harold Brodkey and his oh-so-precious-and-proud first person childhood regurgitations. “Resurrection Of A Life” could easily fall into the same traps. Saroyan is covering similar territory as Brodkey, but he performs a very neat magic trick. He bounces between first and third person to tell his story.

By my count, this technique accomplishes three things. It creates movement in the narrative, keeping things interesting and not strictly stuck to a straight-line flow. It creates a sense of distance – artificial as it obviously is – that allows Saroyan space to comment on the past from an adult perspective. Finally, and most crucially, the shifting narration emphasizes Saroyan’s central theme of the story, that nothing dies, life cycles continue, and memories are linked from the past to the present and passed on to the future forever. When the first person narrator steps in to write about himself in the third person, it creates the illusion that this life is that of two different people. But it’s not. It’s one person, and the memories and experience never die.

Saroyan has created a universal context for his memoir – something I’d argue Brodkey never manages in his work. And that’s quite a trick on Saroyan’s part.

The selection:

I was this boy and he is dead now, but he will keep prowling through the city when my body no longer makes a shadow upon the pavement, and if it is not this boy it will be another, myself again, another boy alive on earth, seeking the essential truth of the scene, seeking the static and precise beneath that which is in motion and which is imprecise.