PENGUIN MODERN STORIES
PART FOUR, continued from: https://etepsed.wordpress.com/1377-2/
Edited by Judith Burnley during 1969-1972
My previous reviews of older or classic books: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/reviews-of-older-books/
And other Penguin short stories here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/26609-2/and https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2021/12/26/the-penguin-book-of-the-contemporary-british-short-story/
When I read these stories, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…
18 responses to “*”
DAY OF DECISION by R. Prawer Jhabvala
“‘Why are you so worried? You’ll look nice with mumps. Plump and nice.’”
Mumps and Dilip’s mummy and the boy with mumps told that whales are mammals. Spoilers here…A story of the nature of old age, of one’s purpose in life, and a family — and purposeless bachelor Dilip is in a mid-life crisis living with his ageing hypochondriac mother, his overbearing house-proud sister, and outside are his two brothers who control the family business, but the mother’s hypochondria is justified by her sudden death and how that events threatens to change the whole pecking-order pattern of this family. Including the place in this pattern of Dilip’s married lover in whom we see one of those great moments in literature when, earlier, she had her long-lasting bath and her oiled ablutions preceding a satisfying nap, in all her sensuality of hips etc. And her small son who is the one who has mumps and threatens spreading it to others, but already the prolonging of destiny was already threatened, was it not, will it not ever be?
THE VOICES by Gabriel Josipovici
This is rather a gimmicky portrait of death in tangible words that make a house’s stories turn to rubble, ranging from childhood memories to a conversation with one’s elder dying self. Full of paradoxes. Not impressed, but some great passages of words. References to Bosch by name, too, and to WORDSworth by his ‘child is father of the man’ words, not by his name. For father read grandfather?
ALMOST AN INTERNATIONAL INCIDENT by A.L. Barker
“…an old brown woman tending a great lily with petals like the wattles of cock. She was sponging its fat stem and its swollen leaves as if they were the body and hands of a sick child.”
This is an incredibly powerful work, that starts off as a more amenable, almost comic one, a bus party, touring Italy, of Americans, and the bus loses its cotter-pin and they have to stay at night in a wayside town on the way to Rimini. It deals with the passengers but then centres on pregnant Pearl and her husband Bennet, and later she talks to married beautiful Gilda, a maid in the chance hotel where they manage to stay, Gilda who can’t have a baby. And much talk of the local church beliefs, and Saint Lidia to whom Pearl playfully promises to light a candle for Gilda’s plight. Pearl also frees one of the wild birds caged ‘wing to wing’ by buying it and then letting it go from fallen stone to flighted escape. And much else evocatively described about the town’s Fiesta that happens to be happening that night. And the stone that eventually hits Pearl in the head (thrown by someone who looked like Gilda) and eventually, back in the hotel, a final elbow moment (“Pearl pushed herself up on her elbows”) with Gilda seeking to free, as it were, the wattles of Pearl’s own freed bird from within her, I guess!
Something is Moving Just Under the Skin by Frederick Busch
“…a scrape of elbows over wood, low hum.”
A stunning word symphony of a group of men being conscripted into the army subject to the medicals as streamed by this vision graphically given us of their physical ploys and plaints, and interactions with officers, some of the men named for us and had their papers ticked or not, and other ‘vial-haulers’ amidst the sound of the ultimate lift ratchet. Told us by a narrator who I will not tell you whether he passes the piss test or not. A spigot of spigots, a classic of some kind that seems completely unknown.
FALSE, IMPOSSIBLE SHORE by C. J. Driver
A novelette that begins at the beginning with long quotes from Matthew Arnold (whence the title is derived) and from C. G. Jung, that CJ of CJD, a quote that includes somewhere: At bottom we never know how it has all come about. The story of a life begins somewhere, at some particular point we happen to remember; and even then it was already highly complex. We do not know how life is going to turn out. Therefore the story has no beginning, and the end can only be vaguely hinted at? That Nemonymous Night, I guess, the inscrutable narrator telling inscrutably of his own life and his friendship with inscrutable Mike, and the politics of South Africa and Botswana, the nature of self, and one’s shadows that vanish just like shadow tricks of dogs on prison walls. And the need to do things against the grain of self, like making sure folk are shot cleanly in firing squad lines. Sprawling text that sometimes makes one yawn as well as wince, and nod knowingly, and shake one’s head in despair. A story from “half-answers and hints, all second-hand…”, and whatever the global gestalt’s ground one walks upon, one remains “not sure that even shadows exist.”
BATTLE FOR THE HILL by Yehuda Amichai
“It is my belief that if there is an end to this universe and if there is a God, there is also a gigantic neck, the face of which looks towards the space beyond and is never seen.”
This seems to be an absurdist Zeno’s Paradox of a war as non-war (we are told up front, the Sinai Campaign in Jerusalem during an ironically finite 1956) with the archetypal hill as obsessive war image and goal, where all the peoples, one’s wives, children et al, are tellingly part and parcel of this never ending muddy goo of time.
“Men used to sprinkle ashes on their heads as a sign of mourning, now they cake themselves with earth because of the war.”
YOU CAN’T BUY IT (1972) by Ian Cochrane
A story of simple working-class folk in houses with walls ‘as thin as arse paper’ between them, and the story is addressed, without additional comment, ‘ To Maggie’. We never know who Maggie is, but we learn about these simple-minded, chattily stoical folk through how they misspell words like PARALISATION and what they call each other, Miss or Mrs, an extended family of otherwise strangers as carers of each other, with men running off to leave their wives, one a paralysed wife who likes drinking, and a welfare officer who gets drunk on a tiny pinprick of gin and whose wife is blind, and the paralised woman giving birth shockingly without notice having been carted around in a wooden cart by another woman who is her neighbour. A paralysed world as an alternate dystopia, I thought.
ABROAD by Nadine Gordimer
“Manie Swemmer moved his elbow within half-an-inch of a nudge —“
This is Manie’s story returning to Lusaka where he lived 30 years before, just after Northern Rhodesia had been turned over by the English into a place called Zambia, and he travels by train from South Africa, with all manner of evocative genius-loci accoutrements of both places, without anywhere to stay other than with his two grown up sons who were there or thereabouts. And the first son Willie, the on,y one in Lusaka, had fallen flat on his face jobwise and couldn’t help and the hotel just mixed Manie in with the company of ‘blacks’ and ‘whites’ together, and Manie finds it hard to adjust, even though he is helped by a ‘black’ and we get a real feel for the new racial interface… A room with a rusty bolt on the door they keep for latecomers who hadn’t come. I felt I was there, living it with him. You don’t get that with cinema films. Only stories with words have power to properly evoke.
“…the jubilant lightness of moving on, not a stranger among strangers, but a new person discovered among new faces.”
HELL WILL NEVER BE FULL (1972) by Ian Cochrane
Tale, inter alios, of Liz Leaves!
A powerful story that could never be first published today whatever the grounds for RE-publishing it as historic literature of its time. Disarmingly shocking. Simply told by a boy in a town about his Ma and Da and his siblings, and his first experience of underage sex, and around them the murders and incests and insanities and child abusings and minds of blind Christian faith and swarms of rats and his Da’s work, skutching at the skutch mill. Till even everyone Leaves, I guess, but whereto and why?
TWO MORE UNDER THE INDIAN SUN by R. Prawer Jhabvala
This is the adumbrated tale of Elizabeth and Margaret as the then representatives of the English in India, the former with an Indian husband, the latter widowed by her English husband, and the friendship, tension, rivalry between these two women in the light of the people and traditions of India, its evocations of place absorbed by the human senses. Telling and poignant and open-ended.
JOE by Jay Neugeboren
The story of Mighty Joe Young and his delivery cart in Brooklyn, who claimed that if Eisenhower died from his heart attack then Nazis would take over, so he put black streamers on his cart, whilst still entertaining the adolescent boys of the area to the pornography books that part of his cart contained. Till he married a woman, we are told by one of the boys as narrator, a woman who seems almost “a mongolian idiot” with “duck-footed” walk! And the boys, when they saw less and less if his wife, till she never reappeared, feared the worst, but was Joe protecting her or had something just ordinarily open-ended happened? They were just blandly happy to the point of tears? A wondrously neutralised boredom then ensuing with pangs of regret for all of us, whatever the era or area? An inscrutable classic.
THE LAST TO GO by Penelope Gilliatt
I’m afraid I did not finish this as it is quite beyond me, about post war socialism and other political and social mœurs of the time, I think, and a short man with a curved spine resigning from the Labour Party after being sacked from his job at the library, and his relationship with a married couple, his best friend from the 1940s and the latter’s wife, and about this married couple’s relationship itself. Sorry I can’t be of more help!
THE PASS by Jay Neugeboren
“With friends you didn’t have to talk about something special; you just talked.”
Billy, near puberty or older, has a pass to visit the bathing club with his parents, but why is he in an institution at all to need such a pass? Mouth, wet and tactile, and keeping his stomach down, kisses and near misses with his mother and their condescending aloofness, and squinting through locker holes into the female changing room, and watching children, one girl in a bathing costume in particular, but then pleased when his parents truncate his pass time out and he goes back to the drug treatment and the easier talk, but remembering, no doubt, having watched children in swimsuits play at being Doctors and Patients earlier… “…wrapping what must have been gauze around the patient’s head, then picked her up by the elbow, patted her lightly on the rear, and sent her on her way.”
There will now be a delay in continuing these reviews….
AN OBSESSIVE ACT OF CREATION, OR DESTRUCTION by Maggie Ross
This feels like the madness of recurrence, the madness fifty years since this work was written that we are going through now.
A man and woman approaching a school for an event, he has stubbed his toe, no, it is bleeding profusely. A tank coming? Guns and blood. I am even in it, within these roads that faze me, yes, in it as the recurrent old man. And a boy, too, who I once was. Nobody knows what’s going on. Where will it begin or end? Report on Probability A, and B, and C…
NINA OF ASKELON by Yehuda Amichai
“houses without roofs, windows without houses, bodies without life”
Not the girl, the film projector projecting its images upon her, but Shemuel’s wife, Nina, in the evoked eponymous resort where one becomes the main protagonist observing this Siamese twin of the whole world in the shape of Nina, who uses the sea as her escape route with various men, including, potentially, me, only for her be found naked under a blanket in the morning, not dead, but still alive to be reported later on the wireless, as missing again! Twisted sycamores into predetermined corruption, sausages cooked on the beach, and she is larger than all these things, larger than life itself, and this story equally sets the reader as the observant protagonist free! A life without a body.
This review continues here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2023/01/05/penguin-modern-stories-2/#comment-26406