Top Five Tuesdays: Short Stories
Let me just squeak this in this post at the end of Tuesday. I noticed that I have a glaring lack of blog posts these past few weeks and I admit that it is because I am out of my groove lately but let me change that now. On today’s edition of Top Five Tuesdays, I shall list (in no particular order) five short stories that I like immensely. Here they are:
1. The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
“Lottery in June, Corn be heavy soon.” – Old Man Warner
Imagine Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games on minimalist steroids. No fuss about the selection of the “tributes” and no elaborate contest to determine who will survive. When you get picked in Jackson’s story, you automatically die. Shirley Jackson presents a chilling tale about human nature in the face of death and presents a provincial atmosphere mixed with anxiety as the town prepares for a lottery, an age-old ritual that sacrifices one of the townspeople in order to guarantee good harvest.
I don’t want to go into the details of the lottery but I have to say that it gives the reader a glimpse into humanity’s darkest side. You see, when the townspeople has chosen their sacrifice, they gladly stone the chosen one to his/her death and the meekest and the most gentle ones in the town are the ones that will throw the biggest stones. Not even the family or the friends of the chosen one will defend her. In fact, they are actually relieved that they are not the ones that was chosen. It really gives you a glimpse into the evil that resides within us all and the story is an effective way of reminding us of what we are capable of.
2. Light is Like Water by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
In Madrid, Spain, a remote city of burning summers and icy winds, with no ocean or river, whose landbound indigenous population had never mastered the science of navigating on light.” – Narrator
Up to this day, I am still not sure what this story means. I mean I can probably make an argument that it’s about bad parenting and responsibility; the dangers of always getting what you want; or the human hubris but I can never be sure about my arguments. That’s the beauty of reading Garcia Marquez, you can always find something new whenever you read a story or a novel.
In this particular story, Garcia Marquez details the exploits of two brothers who forced their parents to buy them a boat even if there is no body of water near their house in Madrid. The parents, dumbfounded by their request, granted the wishes of their children because they are doing well in school. While the parents are out, the children smashed a light bulb and light flowed from it and created a sea in which the children could sail on. Over the course of the story, the children excelled in their studies and they wanted to have a party with their classmates and so they did but it ended in the death of everyone since the brothers smashed all the lights within their house and it created a sea of light so violent that they got lost and eventually died.
This by far is my favorite short story of all time. Its imagery is masterful and its message, although I still don’t know what it is, is profound.
3. How My Brother Leon Brought Home A Wife by Manuel E. Arguilla
“She stepped down from the carretela of Ca Celin with a quick, delicate grace. She was lovely. She was tall. She looked up to my brother with a smile, and her forehead was on a level with his mouth.” – Baldo
I remember reading this in my first year of high school and I distinctly remember my teacher saying that Maria, the wife in the story, is a prostitute. It was the moment that I knew that I have moved on from the contrived stories about morality of my elementary school and into the world of true literature.
How My Brother Leon Brought Home a Wife tells the story of Baldo as he fetches his brother and his new wife in the wee hours of the morning so that the townspeople will not know that Leon, who is a student in Manila, has brought home a prostitute for a wife. There is actually no indication that Maria is really a prostitute but my teacher pointed out signs like Maria is from Ermita; that she has long fingernails; that she smells like papaya; and that Leon’s family is embarrassed by their marriage which was hastily done and which was not attended by Leon’s family.
However, aside from the story, what captured my attention was the clash between the modern girl sensibilities of Maria and the provincial sensibilities of Baldo and his family. Baldo would note that Leon called Maria by her real name and not “Maring” or “Mayang” and that Maria called Leon “Noel”, a reversal of Leon’s name. But the main draw of the story is how Arguilla weaves the setting into such a beautiful image of the countryside that is seemingly taken from one of Fernando Amorsolo’s paintings.
4. Judith Castle by David Mitchell
“Once over fifty, most British women go to seed, leaving the rest of us to arise, like roses in a bombsite.” – Judith Castle
I have only read two works by David Mitchell. One is his novel, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and the other is his short story, Judith Castle. Yet, I am already a fan of Mr. Mitchell and I am sure that I will also like his other works. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet shows how Mitchell can create grand stories that is epic in scale and weaves from one narrative to the other but, in Judith Castle, Mitchell shows how he can also create stories that is driven by a single character and her thoughts. I am not going to spoil any details regarding the story because the joy in reading this story is if you don’t know anything about it and if you just go with David Mitchell as your guide.
However, I must say that David Mitchell is really good when creating stories for his characters. I have seen that when he created backstories of several of his characters in The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet but his talent in character creation is in full force in this story as it takes the front seat. I am not a Mitchell expert but I think that Judith Castle, however short it is, is proof that he is indeed a brilliant writer who deserves all the hype that he is getting.
5. On Seeing The 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning by Haruki Murakami
It would have started “Once upon a time” and ended “A sad story, don’t you think?” – Narrator
I don’t know what made me choose this over the other short stories in Murakami’s The Elephant Vanishes but I am a sucker for love stories with a twist and a story about a boy meeting his perfect girl and the boy telling a story within the story about their fictional history is no exception. The narrator in the story details how he met the 100% Perfect Girl for him one day in a busy street and how he did nothing about it. Then his friend asked him how he knew that she was the 100% Perfect Girl for him and our protagonist said that he just knew that she is. The narrator then creates a story about how they met as perfect matches for each other; fell in love; separated because of their doubts about their perfection; forgot each other due to disease; and finally meeting again in a busy street with only a flicker of memory about their past.
On Seeing The 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning is a very short story yet it is beautifully made and it details the joy and the sadness of love as we search for the perfect people who we will love and will love us; and the pain that accompanies such love when people doubt if they are indeed perfect for each other which probably tells the reader that love is a leap of faith that should be taken despite its many doubts.