BOOK REVIEW: Great Short Stories by American Women, edited by Candace Ward

Great Short Stories by American WomenGreat Short Stories by American Women
Edited by Candace Ward
Completed April 20, 2012

I received Great Short Stories by American Women as a Christmas gift several years ago, and it’s been languishing on my shelves for a long time. After completing this slim anthology, I wonder why I waited so long.

This anthology contains stories by many renowned female American writers:

Each story was steeped in realism and exposed many civil themes of the late 18th or early 19th century. Themes of racism, sexism, marriage and class differences permeated most of these stories. Each writer was gifted in how she could draw her readers in from the first sentence – and not let go until the last. I believe writing short stories can be harder than writing novels because you only have so many pages to tell your story. These women make it look effortless.

I could never pick a favorite from any of these stories, but one story, “A Jury of her Peers,” still lingers in my mind. Two women –  a sheriff’s wife and a farmer’s wife – are summoned to a neighbor’s home. Their neighbor, Minnie Wright, was accused of killing her husband. As the women collect thing Minnie will need while incarcerated, they piece together what happened to Minnie and her marriage – just by finding small details in the house: a broken bird cage, a badly sewn quilt block, a well worn black shirt. Minnie never appeared in the story, but by the last paragraph, you know so much about her life. It was a gripping story and a realistic look at marriage, domesticity and women’s lives.

The best part about reading this anthology is how it whetted my appetite for more works by these gifted writers. It was my first foray into many of these writers’ works, and I look forward to reading more by these talented, influential female American writers. (  )

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BOOK REVIEW: The Odditorium by Melissa Pritchard

The Odditorium by Melissa PritchardThe Odditorium: Stories
By Melissa Pritchard
Completed February 17, 2012

When I was younger, I didn’t like short story collections. I felt teased by only a small portion of a larger story and frustrated when my search for a connecting thread turned up fruitless. Thankfully now, I have case aside my hesitancy and am enjoying short story collections, including my latest read, The Odditorium by Melissa Pritchard.

The Odditorium touches on multiple genres: Westerns, historical fiction, murder mysteries, religious fiction and more. To shape each story, Pritchard plucks out obscure people, places and events from history and the modern world. While I enjoyed all of the stories, here are a few of my favorites:

1. “Watanya Ciclia” is the story about the friendship between Annie Oakley and Sitting Bull. Sitting Bull watches Annie at a show, and eventually agrees to join Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show, despite the boos and jeers, to spend time with Annie.  The story is a touching tribute to two friends and sympathic view of the plight of Sitting Bull.

2. “Captain Brown and the Royal Victoria Military Hospital” is the longest story in the collection – and one many other readers didn’t like. This story resonated with me, however. Captain Brown is an American naval surgeon who must convert a Victorian-era British military hospital into a feat of modern medicine –  all before the Allied’s planned attack on D-Day. Brown was fallible and honest, and despite his career successes, was guilty about decisions he made in his life. This would have made a wonderful novel.

3. “Patricide” takes place at the hotel that houses a courtyard played in by Edgar Allan Poe. Two sisters meet there to discuss their dying father. The oldest sister, Avis, who was to inherit her father’s riches, was considered a disappointment by her father, and he cut Avis out of his will.  When Signe, the other sister, sees the pain Avis is in from an arthritic knee, Signe wonders if she could kill her father now so she can rush the money to her ailing sister. Throughout the story, we learn about Signe’s life, including a recent scandal from her job as a teacher. Mixed into the story are wonderful lines from Poe’s poetry.

All in all, I was immersed in great storytelling and fantastic writing. I highly recommend The Odditorium to readers who enjoyed high-quality short stories and lovers of literary fiction. (  )

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

BOOK REVIEW: A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor

A Good Man is Hard to Find
By Flannery O’Connor
Completed October 1, 2010

Flannery O’Connor is one of those writers I’ve been meaning to get to. Prompted by recent reviews of her short story collection, A Good Man is Hard to Find, I decided there was no time like the present. Truth be told, after finishing A Good Man, I cannot believe I waited so long to enjoy this talented writer’s stories.

While I enjoyed each story in this collection, a few stood out for me:

1) “A Good Man is Hard to Find” – A family and their grandmother are traveling by car to Florida for vacation. The grandmother is quite precocious, even smuggling her cat into the car, despite her son’s disapproval. She was also leery of going to Florida because she worried about running into an outlaw serial killer. When she takes her family on a wild goose chase to find an old house, her worst fear is realized, coming face to face with the serial killer.

2) “The River” – A young boy, Harry, goes with his new babysitter to a church revival where he is baptized for the first time. Harry is neglected by his parents, particularly his alcoholic mother. Once home, the boy remembers the words of the preacher – that he is somebody – and runs away from home to return to the river, to return to the feeling of self-worth that he experienced during his baptism. Of all the stories in this collection, this one touched me the most. I won’t soon forget young Harry.

3) “A Late Encounter With the Enemy” – General Sash was 104 years old, whose 62-year-old granddaughter was graduating from college. The general (who we realize later was only a major) could care less about his granddaughter’s academic accomplishment but looked forward to being featured on stage as part of the ceremony. As one of the oldest living Confederate “generals,” Sash enjoyed the limelight, especially the pretty girls who often posed with him for pictures. Upon arriving at the graduation, though, he didn’t find any pretty girls or much of the limelight, and eventually does something that no one planned on. This story had an undertone of dark humor, and I found myself smirking at the old general from time to time.

All of the stories featured in A Good Man is Hard to Find are gems – a reflection of post-World War II American South with all their doubts and insecurities. If you haven’t discovered the amazing writing style of Flannery O’Connor, then this story collection is an excellent place to start. ( )

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