"The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly.” The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
This quote was brought to mind by the final steamroller of a story, "Retrospective," in this wonderful collection of thought-provoking stories. I appreciated all but one of the 7 other stories, which revolve mostly around Jews in World War II Europe, communists and the red scare during the McCarthy era, and Israel. I cannot begin to discuss all of the stories here, so I'll just hit some of my high points.
While the stories involve so many relationships and emotions, the common thread seemed to be the character’s revelation of self through loneliness, including: an elderly widower, remarried late and wanting to belong to an old world culture (or a religion); an Israeli soldier’s need for his amputee brother’s love and to be an important part of his small family contrasted with his selfish feelings for the bro’s girl and his guilt from what is on track to be much more; loneliness borne of fear and resentment that comes from being a 13-year-old Jewish girl escaping through sewers and living hungry and in hiding during the coldest winter ever; isolation from a daughter and loss of status in the world; a daughter’s loneliness from normal society outside the narrow world of her father, a communist party leader in the U.S. during the Eisenhower years, and her eagerness to do anything to escape; and, a man’s loneliness from the loss of his relationship with his wife and 10-year-old son caused by his selfishness and ego.
In “Retrospective,” which I consider the best short story I’ve read in many years, Ms. Antopol quilts the mind with a vivid landscape over which the reader thinks she/he knows the way. [[Seen a lot of this before, know where we’re headed. Turbulence, but set her on cruise control; ahh ..., four more to go, take foot off gas and coast; two more, put right foot easily on brake, and ..... WHAM!]]
And yet, this was no contrived shock ending. I wish I could do justice to the author's work by adequately describing my jumbled and racing thought and how the final scene was so well-laid that it rendered my heart heavy and left me feeling so alone that my only remedy seemed to be my eternal consciousness and my faith. I recovered, but that is one that stays around in your head for a while.
I plan to purchase the print version because I’d like to read a few of these again and mine them for the gold I know is there.
Ms. Van Dyck’s talented narration enhanced these stories as an experience–in sound as well as in sight and mind.
I highly recommend this book.
Do you love to read and now wish you would have taken the American Lit course in college or, worse, that you had actually paid attention when you took the course?
If so, or if you just love lit and don't care if you'd taken it in college or not, this is a perfect chance to listen to over 16 hours of a soft-spoken, lively and enthusiastic Ivy League (Brown) professor Arnold Weinstein covering American literature in the 20th century. From the charm of small-town American life (with the secrets) of Sherwood Anderson; to the loss of innocence and the love of booze portrayed by Fitzgerald and Hemingway; the racism in the American South explored by Faulkner; God, religion and the religious (particularly in the South) in the short stories of Flannery O'Connor; the explosion of drugs in William Burroughs' novels; the mass destruction of war and extra-terrestrials in Slaughterhouse Five by Vonnegut; the Nixon administration and execution mocked by Coover; the prevalence of technology in DeLillo's White Noise; as well as the exploration of feminism and race by the wonderful authors, Zora Neale Hurston and Toni Morrison. Each of these novels and authors provides a fictional, provocative account of the issues of its/his/her day.
If you haven't read a lot of these materials, do not let that dissuade you. I hadn't either, but Professor Weinstein inspired me to read many of them and his teaching method doesn't require you to have read them to enjoy and learn from the course.
I highly recommend all of Professor Weinstein's lit courses. In my opinion, just a lecture or so out of the course's 32 lectures over 16 1/2 hours is worthy of a credit.
One of the most potent short stories in the Western Lit canon: Rain, by Somerset Maugham.
A Pacific island quarantined during the tropical wet season. Two couples in the same building as a prostitute. One husband and wife are missionaries. One a mild-mannered doctor and his wife. The doctor is the narrator of this story best illustrating the powerful struggle between a man's religious beliefs and nature (man's natural desires). If you have not read it, I won't spoil for you one of the most dramatic last few pages in literature. Prayers and faith can fortify the spirit, but they cannot stop the rain.
Mr. Crossley does an excellent job narrating Rain and Other Stories, by, in my humble opinion, one of the most underrated writers in Western Literature, W. Somerset Maugham.