Every now and then I get an urge to write a short story, then realize I haven’t even read one in ages. Then I start hunting a bunch of them out hoping to absorb the form by osmosis.
So it was, in a fatal moment, that I happened upon the American Literature library and clicked on Susan Glaspell. Her biography informed me she was a playwright and author of short stories. ‘Good enough,’ I thought, and started in.
Two hours later I was rolling around in a puddle of my own tears, sucking my thumb, whimpering looking for a giant plush panda to cuddle.
Here she is. Looks like a nice lady, doesn’t she? Sweet. Thoughtful. Full of the milk of human kindness.
Well don’t be fooled; this woman was a menace. She lived to torment innocent people with stories about girls with tuberculosis and men who selflessly forego True Love and little boys who want nothing so much in the world as a scruffy little dog. She starts each story in pretending to be all wry and realistic, but soon enough the sentimental hooks are in your liver and she’s twisting them around with that winsome little smirk on her face.
There are some people who go out looking for that sort of thing but I am not one of them. I only read about six or seven of these gut-punchers, then decided: No, I won’t do it, I’m not reading any more!
You might be different, but anyway, here’s a sample of her stories. Read them if you dare. Here are they are, with blunt advisories.
This is a sort of proto-feminist detective story. It’s not too sentimental in that all the bad stuff has already happened. That said, you might want to give it a miss if you are sensitive to issues such as violent murder, domestic abuse and animal cruelty.
This starts out as a light-hearted Rom-Com-type scenario. Girl gets her first job at a publishing house, is assigned to write a dictionary and falls in love with her colleague. But that’s when the Rom-Com turns into a kind of twisted Japanese tragedy. NOT A HAPPY ENDING.
At last! A little light humor of the Mark-Twain-abroad type. Two Americans meet by chance in Paris. The man is a stereotypical goofy Yankee who wants to buy his wife French clothes and the woman is trying to stop him from kitting the poor woman out like a Moulin Rouge dancer. So far, so good. But then, you find out …OH NO SUSAN, DON’T DO IT! LEAVE THE PATHOS ALONE. Goddammit, Susan.
This one appeals to me because it’s about a painting that exerts a strange, semi-magical power over someone. It could be argued that it has a happy ending, but only in the sense that life is endless suffering and oblivion is a sweet release. Do not read if you are triggered by tubercular waifs who never had a chance in this terrible world.
This story was the absolute worst. I mean, you always have to be wary of any story, book or film that involves a dog; it’s only there to flip you over on your turtle back and expose your soft belly to the torturer’s knife. And quite often, something bad happens. This story has a happy ending but even so,it is just relentlessly upsetting from go to whoa. Avoid.