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Small is beautiful
May 18, 2008 11:43 AM 21879 Views
(Updated May 20, 2008 10:25 PM)

Short stories are like little gems, Cadbury Gems that look pretty, taste good and vanish without cloying. You can eat many at a time and again and again with renewed pleasure each time. Choosing


5 best short stories is an impossible task, and quite self defeating.


How can you choose 5 best pearls out of an ocean-full of treasure? It is like picking 5 best stars out of a glittering sky. Leave alone 5 best short stories, it is not even possible to choose 5 best short story writers! Anyhow, I am picking these stories strictly on basis of the ones which have lingered in my mind the most.


The only thing to do is to excuse me for the ones I have ignored and just savor the ones I list here.


Here goes my list, which is not in any order, I wouldn’t dare!


The Selfish Giant – Oscar Wilde


Now what can one say about Oscar Wilde? His witty writing, short stories, plays, poems are all delightful. His story, The Portrait of Dorian Grey is a masterpiece. His wordplay sparkles, makes you chuckle, and read on and on and on without tiring. But in this little morality tale, he adopts almost a biblical tone:


“And


the Giant stole up behind him and took him gently in his hand, and put


him up into the tree. And the tree broke at once into blossom, and the


birds came and sang on it, and the little boy stretched out his two


arms and flung them round the Giant's neck, and kissed him.”


The repeated use of the word “and” is in the style of the Bible. The sentences are short and descriptive “He was a very selfish Giant”. The


simple little tale of a selfish person who realizes the importance of


sharing and loving his fellow creatures is timeless, a classic.



The Metamorphosis – Franz Kafka *


If I were to choose the best short story ever, this would be it. The pathetic tale of Gregor Samsa tears your heart out. It


makes you wonder at the fragility of our closest relationships, with


our parents, our siblings, which seem so strong, but are often based on


a mutual need. Good as long as they are fulfilling, cast out the minute they are not. The story has a chilling start


“One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin.”


From


being a good son and brother, who works hard to support his family, he


turns into a hated creature that needs constant attention. At first, his sister pitches in lovingly to care for him. But as time passes, he becomes a useless burden and is shunned by his own loved ones. Kafka


paints an inexorable picture of Gregor’s travails that take us through


emotions of pity and disgust, but also make us realize that we are


human and possess all the frailties associated with our kind.


The Necklace – Guy De Maupassant


One


of those tales with a twist in the end, like the Gift of Magi, which


was bittersweet, borne of love, ending with a little laughter and love. But The Necklace is almost like a morality tale, chiding and punishing the heroine mercilessly for her vanity. Mathilde Loisel is a young pretty girl who yearns for good life. She is married to a poor man and is discontented with her life. Her


husband brings home an invitation to a party, and Mathilde is besieged


by the question familiar to all womenfolk, “What will I wear!” With great difficulty she puts together a desired ensemble that is worthy of her beauty. And for that night, she gets all that she wished for.


“She


danced madly, ecstatically, drunk with pleasure, with no thought for


anything, in the triumph of her beauty, in the pride of her success, in


a cloud of happiness made up of this universal homage and admiration,


of the desires she had aroused, of the completeness of a victory so


dear to her feminine heart.”


Alas, this is the last happy night of her life. But then, didn’t DH Lawrence say “Let man go on his way to perdition”?



Old Fashioned Farmers – Nikolai Gogol*


Gogol has written umpteen, magnificent short stories. What


is so special about this one? In my mind this story is almost like a


stately painting, with lovely detailing, that brings an old couple


alive. Yes, there is a lot of romance in painting young


and beautiful figures, but the painting of the old couple is like


looking at LIFE.


Afansii Ivanovich and Pulcheria Ivanova are old-fashioned farmers. Their life has settled into a series of routines and habits. In their own way, they are a very devoted to each other. They


spend their day tending to their farming affairs and household matters.


They love welcoming guests into their house and are full of the old


world charm. What happens when one of the couple dies? Gogol compares a mad passionate love of youngsters with the staid habits of an old couple who have been together forever.


“Which


wields the most powerful sway over us, passion or habit? Or are all our


strong impulses, all the whirlwinds of our desire and boiling passions,


but the consequence of our fierce young growth, and only for that


reason seem deep and annihilating?" However that may be, all our


passion, on that occasion, seemed to me child's play beside this long,


slow, almost insensible habit”


A Municipal Report - O Henry


This is one story I am very very fond of. I read it through again yesterday while looking for quotes to pull out. Oscar Wilde and O Henry are the only ones on this list to have written in English. In their stories, nothing is lost in translation and we get the full impact of whatever they intend to convey. I


could wax eloquent forever about his writing style, if only I could


find words to describe it. Is it hard to sketch a character so well in


a few lines that it jumps out of the pages of the book to come alive?


Yes, but, O Henry can.


Nashville is a dull place that the narrator is commissioned to visit. He has to sign a contract with a lady, Azalea Adair, binding her to write for a journal at 2 cents per word. He


also runs into a black cab driver called Caesar whose regal ways seem


out of sorts with his ramshackle cab(horse-driven) and tattered


clothes. He also runs into a despicable gentleman called Major Wentworth Caswell. There is also a dollar bill in this story, which is almost like a character itself.


“I


gave him two one-dollar bills. As I handed them over I noticed that one


of them had seen parlous times. Its upper right-hand corner was


missing, and it had been torn through the middle, but joined again. A


strip of blue tissue paper, pasted over the split, preserved its


negotiability.”


Then there is button which is again a very important element in the story.


"The lone button was the size of a half-dollar, made of yellow horn and sewed on with coarse twine.


Our narrator is surprised when he finds a gem in Nashville in the shape of Ms. Azalea Adair.


“While


she talked to me I kept brushing my fingers, trying, unconsciously, to


rid them guiltily of the absent dust from the half-calf backs of Lamb,


Chaucer, Hazlitt, Marcus Aurelius, Montaigne and Hood. She was


exquisite, she was a valuable discovery. Nearly everybody nowadays


knows too much - oh, so much too much - of real life.”


Expecting


to be bored to death during the visit, the narrator finds excitement


aplenty. A murder is done, and the narrator helps in shielding a


murderer.Contd. in comments

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