Tag: 2008 Read

Months and Seasons – Book Review

These were adults with too much time on their hands. And didn’t they know that the projector, sound system, and speakers were all Japanese? Their dancing shoes were probably from Mexico or China. America’s jobs were going elsewhere and Americans were just dressing up and playing like kids. Gas prices were high. General Motors was …

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The View From Castle Rock – Book Review

These are stories. You could say that such stories pay more attention to the truth of a life than fiction usually does. But not enough to swear on. And the part of this book that might be called family history has expanded into fiction, but always within the outline of a true narrative. With these …

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An Ex-Mas Feast, by Uwem Akpan – Short Story Review

The sun had gone down on Ex-mas evening. Bad weather had stormed the seasons out of order, and Nairobi sat in a low flood, the light December rain droning on our tarpaulin roof. I was sitting on the floor of our shack, which stood on a cement slab at the end of an alley, leaning …

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Natalie, by Anne Enright – Short Story Review

After reading The Gathering, I was eager to read more work by Anne Enright.  So when the 21st Fiction Yahoo group chose Enright’s short story Natalie to read and discuss, I was pleased. I read this story on-line at the New Yorker. Natalie is narrated by an unnamed teenage protagonist who is laying in bed …

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Mr. Bones – A Short Story Review

My father, apparently a simple, cheery soul, was impossible to know. -From Mr. Bones- Paul Theroux wrote this short story which appeared on line at The New Yorker in September 2007. The narrator is a man remembering his father from many years previous. Right up front, he tells the reader that not only is his …

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Springtime On Mars: Stories – Book Review

“For years, people imagined they saw canals dug into the planet’s surface. They called these canals proof of life. They worried what intelligent life on Mars might mean to us earthlings, to our safety. But, it was nothing. An optical illusion a cosmic misprint. There’s no life. There’s nothing.” -From Springtime on Mars, page 112- …

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Free Radicals, by Alice Munro – Review

She hadn’t had time to wonder about his being late. He’d died bent over the sidewalk sign that stood in front of the hardware store offering a discount on lawnmowers. -From Free Radicals- When Nita’s 81 year old husband Rich drops dead outside the hardware story, Nita grieves and wonders how she could have outlived …

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The Kiss, by Anton Chekhov – Review

The most ill at east of them all was Ryabovitch – a little officer in spectacles, with sloping shoulders, and whiskers like a lynx’s. While some of his comrades assumed a serious expression, while others wore forced smiles, his face, his lynx-like whiskers, and spectacles seemed to say: I am the shyest, most modest, and …

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Landscape With Flatiron, by Haruki Murakami – Short Story Review

“Anyhow, let’s wait till the fire burns out,” Miyake said. “We built it, so we ought to keep it company to the end. Once it goes out, and it turns pitch-dark, then we can die.” -From Landscape with Flatiron- This short story, part of a group of stories entitled After The Quake, occurs over the …

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The Overcoat, by Nikolai Gogol – Short Story Review

Thus flowed on the peaceful life of the man, who, with a salary of four hundred rubles, understood how to be content with his fate; and thus it would have continued to flow on, perhaps, to extreme old age, were there not various ills sown among the path of life for titular councillors as well as for private, actual, court and every other species of councillor, even for those who never give any advice or take any themselves. -From The Overcoat-

The Russian writer, Nikolai Gogol, published this short story in 1842 – a tale about a poor Russian official named Akakii Akakievich who is the ridicule of his department. Akakii lives entirely for his duties as a copier. His co-workers laugh at him and abuse him. He often has bits and pieces of filth on his uniform due to his “peculiar knack, as he walked in the street, of arriving beneath a window when all sorts of rubbish was being flung out of it.” Akakii’s coat is threadbare and he is finally forced to have a new overcoat sewn for him by Petrovich the Tailor. The cost of the overcoat is exorbitant for Akakii, but he scrimps and saves, denying himself food and other basic necessities until he is able to purchase the coat. Overnight, he becomes respectful. His co-workers fawn over his beautiful, new coat – and even throw him a lavish party in celebration. But, disaster falls upon Akakii … his joy is short lived when the coat is stolen.

Gogol’s short story takes an interesting twist as Akakii seeks help to recover the overcoat – going first to the police and then an “important personage.” He is lost amid a barrage of bureaucracy:

…”don’t you know etiquette? Where have you come to? Don’t you know how matters are managed? You should first have entered a complaint about this at the court: it would have gone to the head of the department, to the chief of the division, then it would have been handed over to the secretary, and the secretary would have given it to me.” -From The Overcoat-

The Overcoat is a story about a common man who is beneath everyone (much is made in the beginning about Akakii’s name which comes close to the Russian word kaka – translated as “poop”), but who rises in esteem simply upon the purchase of an overcoat. He falls again with the loss of this possession, and must appeal to the government for assistance – which does not come. The ending (which I do not want to reveal to those who have not read the story), implies that the common man will ultimately rise above his persecutors. Gogol pokes fun at those in power, showing them to be insubstantial and shallow despite their titles. He allows Akakii to come out on top – demonstrating it is not material gain which grants one power.

I enjoyed this short story which is perhaps more of a parable.

Recommended; rated 4/5.

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