Short Stories of the Month: November 2014

SSotM

I recently joined the Short Story Station team and I had to come up with reviews for the short stories featured each month. For November, the featured stories were Roselily by Alice Walker and The Swimmer by John Cheever. It was my first time to read works from both authors and I thoroughly loved the reading experience. Roselily was very short but rich, and The Swimmer was melancholic and thought-provoking.

Here are my thoughts on the stories above, which were originally posted at The Short Story Station:

Roselily

by Alice Walker

ROSELILY is the perfect example of why I have become a fan of short stories. It takes certain skill to weave an engaging tale in no less than 3 pages, without sacrificing character depth, meaningful plot, and arresting prose. With short stories like this, I can certainly say that length is not a measure of a writer’s talent and skill.

She dreams; dragging herself across the world. A small girl in her mother’s white robe and veil, knee raised waist high through a bowl of quicksand soup.

Roselily is getting married. To a black man. On the porch of her house. She has 4 children, the last one given away to its father who had money. A lot of things are running through her mind while the preacher drones on with his litany of the marriage ceremony. She thinks of her dead mother. She worries about her last child in New England. She wonders about her new husband and his different religion. She is excited about the prospect of living in a new city.

But she is also uneasy about her new life. Will she be able to take on her new responsibilities? Will she be able to make new roots? What about her children?

This is the first time I have read something by Alice Walker. I had meant to read her more popular full-length work, The Color Purple, but I got distracted with other books. I’m glad I had the chance to read this short story, though, because it gave me a taste of how her writing feels like. There is something to say about the prose. It is crisp and short, but the narrative is packed with a lot of meaning in terms of women empowerment and cultural differences, motherhood and romance. I loved how the paragraphs are interspersed with the lines of the opening litany of a Christian wedding ceremony. This creative prose has made the story stand out in my eyes.

Reading Roselily made me think about my own wedding. Did I think the same thoughts as that of Roselily? I can’t be sure. But I certainly did when I said yes to the wedding proposal. I knew that tying the knot is no laughing matter and that once I say yes, there’s no turning back. It took more than guts to leave my carefree life and slip into a domesticated one. More so that I knew I would be thinking about other people – the husband and the kids – over my own interests. Will I be willing to make that sacrifice? The thing with Roselily, however, was she was already burdened with her job and her kids that she sees marriage as a way out.

She also has her own reservations, certainly. And that is only normal, because getting married is indeed a leap of faith. A big leap of faith, if I may say so. Others would call getting hitched as throwing caution to the wind and just riding with the tide, no matter how high it is. There is a need for extra courage to make that decision and all the more so when you marry someone of a different faith. And of course, there is the question of whether she really loves her husband. Or, is love already enough to marry someone?

Her husband would free her. A romantic hush. Proposal. Promises. A new life! Respectable, reclaimed, renewed. Free! In robe and veil.

I guess Roselily is ready.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

*

The Swimmer

by John Cheever

It was a fine Sunday afternoon, and the sun was hot. Neddy Merrill was having a drink at the edge of a friends’s pool and it suddenly occurred to him to swim through a string of pools across town into his own house, eight miles away. His impulsive and preposterous swimming expedition started pleasurably, and admirably so. In the first few pools that he had to swim through, he encountered friends and neighbors who welcomed him heartily and only slightly surprised to see Ned in his swimwear, dripping wet.

Ned’s euphoric spirit started to sour as a storm came. When he got to the Welcher’s pool, he found it to be dried up. He proceeded to the public pool in Lancaster and had to wade through chlorine-smelling water. It went downhill soon, where, feeling exhausted and cold, he had to gatecrash a party, was rudely served a drink by a bartender, encountered the anger of a mistress, and arrived at his locked and empty house.

The day was lovely, and that he lived in a world so generously supplied with water seemed like a clemency, a beneficence. His heart was high and he ran across the grass. Making his way home by an uncommon route gave him the feeling that he was a pilgrim, an explorer, a man with a destiny, and he knew that he would find friends all along the way; friends would line the backs of the Lucinda River.

It was easy to observe that Ned’s swimming expedition from a neighbor’s pool to his own home was a metaphor for his own life, particularly on his journey towards self-realization that he was not who he think he was. Through snatches of conversations each time Ned encounters a neighbour or a friend, it can be deduced that he was once well-off and that he and his wife and kids enjoyed luxurious living but that he had lately suffered a misfortune, sold his house, and his kids were not with him anymore.

The day was lovely, and that he lived in a world so generously supplied with water seemed like a clemency, a beneficence. His heart was high and he ran across the grass. Making his way home by an uncommon route gave him the feeling that he was a pilgrim, an explorer, a man with a destiny, and he knew that he would find friends all along the way; friends would line the backs of the Lucinda River.

What had made Ned decide to swim across the country, it cannot be ascertained. Truly it was a spur-of-the moment decision, but it was surely something that, although he did not plan on it, had opened his eyes to the sad reality. I do not know for sure for how long he had suppressed the ugly truth about his life and how long he had been numbed by alcohol, but sometimes, it does take a storm to shake us to our senses.

Looking overhead he saw that the stars had come out, but why should he seem to see Andromeda, Cepheus, and Cassiopeia? What had become of the constellations of midsummer? He began to cry.

The Swimmer is a deeply melancholic story but I hesitate to give it a sad ending. I don’t want to think that Ned will go back into drinking and begging for money from friends again. Instead, I would like to think that Ned’s story did not end at his empty house, but that through his journey he was able to gain enough strength to change the course of his life, one stroke after the other, towards happiness and freedom. And for that I will definitely be cheering him on.

Looking overhead he saw that the stars had come out, but why should he seem to see Andromeda, Cepheus, and Cassiopeia? What had become of the constellations of midsummer? He began to cry.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

You can read the reviews by the rest of The Short Story Station contributors  here.

One thought on “Short Stories of the Month: November 2014

  1. It’s my first time to read John Cheever, too. These short stories are turning out to be informal introductions of new authors for me.

    And… love the Christmas banner! 🙂

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