I am discovering the delights of a short story. When I was in school, it was mandatory to ready them for comprehension tests and literary examinations. I loved O.Henry, J.D Salinger, and Washington Irving but somewhere along the way I stopped reading them. Then I became that old fuddy duddy who read Reader’s Digest out of desperation while waiting copious amounts of time at a friends cabin. I found old mouldy copies in a box in the corner and began reading short stories again. Then I discovered the delights of Maeve Binchy, W.P. Kinsella and Alice Munro. Stories so masterfully told that I would think about the characters long after the 30 minutes was up. I still can fondly recall characters years after I put the story down. Short story authors have a magical way of developing characters in an instant and telling a story about a brief moment in time that sticks with you.
My son is currently studying Canadian Short Story Authors and is not enjoying it. I suspect it has to do with the language usage. Older English reads differently than the contemporary literature he currently is enjoys. If you ever read Mark Twain or L.M. Montgomery, then you understand what I mean. I am not referring to Shakespeare, but rather the turn of the 20th Century where language was more formal and slang used in that era is lost on my 17-year-old. I could see him struggling. He suspects he is ADHD, I suspect the content doesn’t interest him. When I was his age, I had a great-aunt who came to live with us for about 6 months. She sat with me and helped me understand the poetry that I despised. While I am still not a great fan, I do know how to make sense of prose because of her. I sat with my son and together we read and analyzed his short story.
Paul’s Case by Willa Cather I rate this story 4 stars out of 5. My son gives it a 2.
You can find the entire text here. The story takes place in modern times for the author, 1904, in Pittsburgh and New York. It is the story of a boy who doesn’t fit into society. Although it doesn’t say it, I suspect the author writes the boy as a homosexual. This is not unusual for this time period, Virginia Wolf also wrote about lesbian attractions although for the times, it was discrete and not obvious to the unaware.
Paul was unable to feel normal in his surroundings but found peace and excitement in the theater and arts. He fantasized about a life of luxury and had a distaste for the mundane. His mother had died when he was young, and his father worked hard to provide a stable life for Paul and his sisters, yet Paul felt his father was stingy with the money. He thought he deserved a more luxurious lifestyle. His choices and movements were self-absorbed and ultimately changed his life forever.
Symbols are a huge part of short stories and I had forgotten that when I did a first read through of this story. I recognized consistencies and was reminded of the prominence of the symbols, the red carnation, money, and the snow.
I could not relate to the main character himself, although I could empathize with him. My son couldn’t believe how narcissistic he was.
Take a quick read and let me know how you view it.
- Annotations of Paul’s Case (michellelaverriere.wordpress.com)
- PEN/O’Henry Prize Stories of 2012 (quiklaw.wordpress.com)