Great Tales of City Dwellers
I just read and enjoyed the 1955 anthology Great Tales of City Dwellers. Plenty of big names from that era (Algren, McCullers, Fitzgerald, Heller) along with several others I wasn't familiar with, including the intriguing Alice Denham. Below are one-word reviews of each story - but of course I can't stop there, and add a sentence or two of elaboration.
On a fireworks scale, I give "Explosions" to Algren, McCullers, Schwartz, Malahan, Denham and Wolfe; "Glimmers" to Aiken, Heller, Parker, di Donato and Farrell; and "Duds" to Fitzgerald, Saroyan, Schulberg and Williams.
Nelson Algren, "How the Devil Came Down Division Street": Classic. The only time I can recall Algren dabbling in the supernatural (though the ghost was likely a figment of the characters' imaginations).
Conrad Aiken, "The Night Before Prohibition": Slow-starting. Too much exposition early on, but a strong finish set against the backdrop of the chaos of the last night of legal drinking, which is also the last night for the two erstwhile lovers.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, "A Millionaire's Girl": Overstuffed. Too much narrative in too few pages - this seems more like the framework for a novel than a short story.
Budd Schulberg, "A Foxhole in Washington": Limbo. Two military officers meet meet in a D.C. hotel bar again and again, pretending they're about to be shipped overseas and are on the cusp of greatness.
Carson McCullers, "A Tree, A Rock, A Cloud": Vivid. The setting of the cafe, and the tension between the characters, is impeccably described.
William Saroyan, "Ever Fall In Love With a Midget?": Meandering. Two guys talking in a bar, or more accurately one guy blathering on and on while the other inexplicably fails to slap the other into coherence.
Joseph Heller, "World Full of Great Cities": Pulp. A rich but unhappy married couple tries to hire a teenaged boy for nefarious purposes.
Delmore Schwartz, "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities": Surreal. The narrator dreams of watching his parents' courtship unfold on a movie screen in a crowded theater, finds himself powerless to stop the trainwreck he knows will ensue between them, but can't look away.
Dorothy Parker, "From the Diary of a New York Lady": Caustic. Parker relentlessly lampoons the monotonously pointless life of a big-city socialite.
Vincent Patrick Malahan, "The Duchess": Sly. Delightful and subtly funny domestic piece. Familiar but ultimately surprising.
William Carlos Williams, "The Girl With a Pimply Face": Flat. Terse, almost hardboiled prose. Not at all what I expected from a poet like Williams. And not a pleasant story either.
Alice Denham, "The Deal": Conflicted. A Vegas casino caricaturist weighs selling her body for the good of her artistic soul. The story grabbed me from the first paragraph and didn't let go.
Thomas Wolfe, "The Hollow Men": Sprawling. Wolfe uses all of America as the backdrop to examine the life of one man - a suicide victim in Brooklyn - who defies the faceless anonymity of bustling American life with his desperate final act.
Pietro di Donato, "Christ in Concrete": Graphic. On Good Friday, the storied day of self-sacrifice, a team of immigrant cement masons make their own unwitting sacrifice.
James T. Farrell, "Meet the Girls": Bleak. Harrowing, hopeless portrait of alcoholism and delusion. Not artfully written, though maybe lyricism would have softened the narrative too much.
I've only recently discovered Dorothy Parker, but I like what I've read so far.
Posted by: Paul at Mar 13, 2012 3:11:38 PM