Tag Archives: Mini Modern Classics

The Tooth – Shirley Jackson

Well that’s what you get for scheduling posts isn’t it? Yesterday I promised you not one but two reviews and this then didn’t go live, but it means I am a few days ahead so that’s ok and really I do think that Shirley Jackson’s collection ‘The Tooth’, which is another of the mini classics Penguin are publishing that I mentioned yesterday. Like with Carson McCullers ‘Wunderkind’ I thought that Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Tooth’ was going to be a novella and instead found a gripping and rather dark collection of tales instead.

All the five tales included in ‘The Tooth’ actually come from Shirley Jackson’s extended collection of short stories ‘The Lottery & Other Stories’ which was originally published in 1949. Having previously read ‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’ I have to say I had high hopes that this mini-collection would be full of dark little tales that unnerved me and they didn’t disappoint. It’s a collection that unnerves you as the tales all have a familiarity with the real world going on as normal in the back ground while the lead characters undergo trying horrors and eerie moments.

I would say that of the collection it is both the title story ‘The Tooth’ and ‘The Lottery’ which are the most famous of his short stories. ‘The Tooth’ being a very unnerving, especially as I don’t like anything to do with teeth so this one actually bothered me a lot, tale about Clara Spencer who must travel to New York City in order to have a tooth seen too. On her way there a stranger, Jim, keeps appearing in wherever she goes and things get stranger and stranger from there. It’s an interesting look on one person’s perception of reality and in some ways how we see the world differently when we are undergoing pain or stress.

‘The Lottery’ was again a tale that bothered me. In a small village people are randomly chosen, hence the name of the tale, to be stoned to death by friends and family. It’s an odd tale because what would be a horrific and scary act for the villagers is almost seen as a time of celebration and catching up. It’s a tale that seems to be about the façade of people and how really you never know what your neighbours and friends might be thinking, could they actually be evil. It chilled me in a way none of the other stories quite did. The theme of identity and society both in the two tales previously mention both merge in ‘The Intoxicated’ in which Jackson uses the setting of a house party to show some undertones of darkness slowly but surely as two guest’s converse.

I think it was actually ‘The Witch’ which is one of the shortest of the bunch (along with ‘Charles’ which is only a page shorter) which I was most shocked and slightly disturbed by and there for I enjoyed the most. However being so short I can’t give too much away and shall simply say is the tale of a boy who whilst entertaining himself on a coach plays i-spy and ends up getting much more than he bargained for. I loved how dark it was and it seemed to encompass the whole feeling of the collection in ten pages, and it’s a great collection I would highly recommend. 9.5/10

This collection has bowled me over far more than reading ‘We Have Always Lived In The Castle’ which I enjoyed but might have read to much hype about. I am going to have to read ‘The Lottery & Other Stories’ without a doubt. I did wonder though, and maybe you can help, will any of the other stories be as good as these ones of have they taken the best ones from the collection? Any other Shirley Jackson books I should be looking out for?

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Filed under Books of 2011, Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Review, Shirley Jackson

Wunderkind – Carson McCullers

I am rather aware that there haven’t been many book reviews on Savidge Reads for a little while and that’s because I am reading slower and thinking more about what I am reading slower. However today you are in for a treat of not one but two reviews of some of the Mini Modern Classics that the publishers Penguin are releasing to celebrate their 50th anniversary. The first is ‘Wunderkind’ by Carson McCullers, an author I have always wanted to read and never quite gotten around to until now.

I was expecting before I opened the cover that ‘Wunderkind’ would a small novella that Carson McCullers had written at some point and hadn’t seen the light of day for a while. In fact it’s a collection of four short stories, which make up just over sixty pages, taken from a collection of hers called ‘The Ballad of the Sad Café and Other Works’ originally published in 1951. It’s always hard to write a review of a short story collection, especially one so short, and not give anything away. I will however try and give it a go. Though I don’t think I understood ‘The Jockey’ and anything it was trying to say in its ten pages and so will steer clear of that one.

The first story in the collection, and the title story, ‘Wunderkind’ was actually Carson McCullers first piece of work ever to be published which she wrote aged 19 and makes a lot of sense. It’s the tale of a specific music lesson between Frances who after being proclaimed a prodigy isn’t becoming one. The tale is basically a wrought set of intense emotions and desires which overcome her during this one session. The fact Carson herself was not far from the narrators age and could possibly well remember these feeling gives what in some ways is a tale we have all seen before have a certain edge, its believable, it rings true and you are left feeling as puzzled as the narrator at the end.

‘A Tree, A Rock, A Cloud’ is another intense emotional tale but is the polar opposite of ‘Wunderkind’. In a small town a man tells of his wife of “one year, nine months, three days, and two nights” and how her leaving him and his obsession with finding her wherever she might be has taught him to love and what loving really means. This sounds rather abstract but is done in rather a haunting way, both sad and hopeful through the way McCullers leaves the reader at the end.

My favourite of the four was ‘Madame Zilensky and the King of Finland’. This to me hard a certain Sparkness to it which I think was why it appeal so much. It’s an initially light hearted tale of a new teacher at Ryder College in New York who seems to be perfect, however as the tale goes on little signs that there may be more to Madame Zilensky than meets the eye creeps into the reader. That’s all I can say on it without giving anything away and therefore spoiling the read.

I guess the best thing is to end with reviewing the collection as a whole. It’s definitely a mixed bag, I wasn’t fussed about ‘The Jockey’ yet despite some of them feeling a little unfinished I think all the others will stay with me for quite some time. This collection excels in doing what I think Penguin are aiming for in a small £3 pocket sized book… it has introduced me to an new author and left me wanting to read more of her work, which is of course published by Penguin. There is a certain sadness in McCullers work that doesn’t depress but haunts and I have found that strangely enticing. I must read more. Who new a 61 page pocket book could provide so much food for thought?

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Filed under Carson McCullers, Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Review, Short Stories