book review, reading recommendations, short story sunday

Short Story Sunday: A Good Man is Hard to Find

For those of you who find it hard to set time aside to read, but still love the pull of a good novel, I introduce to you Short Story Sundays! Basically, I will review a short story or even an essay that I loved each Sunday (most of them will be recommendations) instead of a full length novel or play that you can easily pick up, read, and digest in the span of an hour.

This week’s story comes from the brilliant writer who is a masterful commentator on American life: Flannery O’Connor.

SUMMARY: The narrator of this story comes in the form of a Southern grandmother who would rather vacation in Tennessee, rather than in Florida, where her daughter and her grandson are dragging her along to. This is the kind of woman who is stuck in the past, and stuck in the idea that she was part of a Southern aristocracy, and stuck in an idealized American past that no longer exists in a modern world. She points out an article concerning “The Misfit”, or a serial killer who is out on the road. She finds herself at odds with her family, and she has antiquated values, but this story is still a thriller and the plot twist at the end may have revealed that this grandmother was right about something that she may or may not live to regret.

REVIEW: I was introduced to this chilling story in school, and I am eternally grateful for this introduction because it prompted me to pick up Flannery O’Connor’s collection Everything that Rises Must Converge which I absolutely adored.

O’Connor is great at capturing the feelings of those who are stuck in a different kind of American South, where the wealthy, white plantation owners reigned supreme and in which all of society catered to them. This story proves no exception, and O’Connor manages to concurrently validate those stuck-in-the-past feelings as well as satirizing them.

I also loved the plot and the twist it has at the end, and how it was treated. Yes, it is not the happiest of endings, but that’s O’Connor for you- her stories will leave you somewhat terrified and somewhat in awe. The characterization in this story is particularly some of O’Connor’s best as well; even though you do not know a lot about these characters, they are easily identifiable to any reader. Even the one character in the restaurant that is only briefly mentioned is fleshed out enough for the reader to have an idea of who he is. Additionally, the diction and symbolism is simply enthralling.

If you like a story with excitement, suspension, and an ending that will leave you feeling queasy, (as well with some colorful insights into American generation gaps and American psyches), this story is for you.

RATING: 4.5/5 stars

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book review, reading recommendations, short story sunday

Short Story Sunday: Dreams

For those of you who find it hard to set time aside to read, but still love the pull of a good novel, I introduce to you Short Story Sundays! Basically, I will review a short story or even an essay that I loved each Sunday (most of them will be recommendations) instead of a full length novel or play that you can easily pick up, read, and digest in the span of an hour.

This week’s short story comes from the amazing Anton Chekhov, and it can be read at American Literature, just follow this link.

SUMMARY: A nameless tramp is being escorted by two “peasant constables”, who are trying to figure out the tramp’s name. As they walk, the tramp gives details about his Orthodox Christian upbringings, saying he was the son of a nurse and grew up comfortably for he lived in their master’s home. He characterizes himself as a true gentleman on the inside though he is a peasant on the outside. He then reveals why he refuses to give up his name, and it has to do with the fact that he does not want to finish his penal service. Instead, he would rather be sent to East Siberia, where he could be part of a commune and maybe start his family. The draw of his dreams are pulling to the other peasants, but are soon forgotten as dreams often are.

REVIEW: As per usual, the most interesting aspects of Chekhov’s writing is not his plot lines, but rather his characterization. The main character in this story is everyman, neither a poor beggar nor a rich gentleman, though he fancies he is one. This man knows that there are only a few options for his life, and hypes up one of the options so that it sounds even better than real life. And as he dictates the details of his dream, the other characters are so enthralled that for a few seconds, they are won over.

I think this brief story has a lot to say about social classes, upbringings, religions, and the sort; but I’d like to focus on what it is communicating about dreams. The main character who has learned to idealize his past and his mother in order to have a clean conscience is also the one who turns a wasteland into a virtual paradise. It seems so clear and plausible that the constables, each of whom are not in the low position that the main character is in, fall for it, even just for a minute or two. These characters are all peasants, and the dream of a life far away from reality, far away from their ordinary day-to-day affairs are enough to spark something as dangerous and precious as hope.

Chekhov, once again, beautifully captures the part of the human existence that is altogether a cure and a curse; a dream with enough belief behind it might just come true, but it you put all of your stakes on that dream, it will become alive just to haunt you (The Great Gatsby, anyone?). Yes, this story is short, but it’s brevity is the only thing needed for the subject, which is fleeting dreams.

RATING: 3/5 stars

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book review, reading recommendations, short story sunday

Short Story Sunday: When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine

For those of you who find it hard to set time aside to read, but still love the pull of a good novel, I introduce to you Short Story Sundays! Basically, I will review a short story or even an essay that I loved each Sunday (most of them will be recommendations) instead of a full length novel or play that you can easily pick up, read, and digest in the span of an hour.

My first Short Story Sunday has to be dedicated to one of my all-time favorite short stories, which is When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine by Jhumpa Lahiri. This short story is from her collection Interpreter of Maladies which I will review as a whole soon but for now, I will just say that I highly recommend it.

SUMMARY: When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine is told from the viewpoint of a child named Lilia, who receives a visitor at her house one night, named Mr. Pirzada. Mr. Pirzada would come over frequently, and through him, Lilia’s whole worldview is broadened. Mr. Pirzada comes from Pakistan to America to study, and while Mr. Pirzada is at Lilia’s house, her parents and their guest sit down to watch the news about the possibility of war in Pakistan. Lilia’s parents and Mr. Pirzada came to America from the same part of the world, and this is how they were first introduced to each other and later bonded. Mr. Pirzada had left his own six daughters back in Pakistan, and it is clear that he still thinks and worries about them all the time, and this is especially apparent when he frets over Lilia going trick-or-treating with her friends. Eventually, as the war is about to begin, and Mr. Pirzada must leave to be with his family in a place far enough from the war so that they can be safe.

REVIEW: I have nothing negative to say about this short story, and as a child of immigrants often caught between two cultures, this spoke volumes to me. The most important part of the story, to me, is not that Mr. Pirzada is able to be reunited safely with his family, but rather Lilia’s sudden, piqued interest in the history of her parents’ country at such a young age, and the image of her grasping for knowledge about India and Pakistan, or wondering why no one at her school or why no other adults that she knew never mentioned what was happening in Pakistan, was captivating to me. Lilia, through meeting Mr. Pirzada, is exposed to both the history, the present, and the future of what happened and is happening to her people. She learns to separate herself from the rest of her classmates and community members because she is the only one of them who has such a dedicated interest in the matter. She realizes that all she ever learns in school is American history and that gets under her skin. She prays every night, though not a religious child, because she learned to have such empathy for Mr. Pirzada.

Though this is a short story, it is a coming-of-age story. Lilia’s maturity throughout the plot is both graceful and awkward; her horizons are being expanded while she remains in the dark about many things that she cannot possibly understand yet because she is still a child. Most importantly, this story takes the “ignorant first-generation child of immigrants” stereotype, embraces it, then slowly dismantles it which I adore. Of course, Lahiri’s clean, succinct, and imaginative writing style only add to the wonderful tapestry that is this story.

RATING: 5/5 stars, would definitely recommend as an easy, rich, deceptively simple yet concurrently complex, wonderful read.

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