Tag: eccentrics

Isaac Bashevis Singer, “The Mentor” (1968)

the mentor isaac singer

One of Singer’s monologuish stories. Freidle the monologuist is a free-spirited woman, a physician hedonist who claims to believe in nothing, who cheated on her husband on her honeymoon and sleeps with everything that moves, but whose free spirit crumbles the moment it’s about her 16-year-old daughter, who despises her. Her life is a double-standard. The daughter is living with Tobias, the husband, who, according to Feidle, is making a whore of the girl to spite Freidle. (“There is one sphere in which everyone is a genius, and that is in being spiteful.”) It’s a thin story that wears thinner as you read. Som of the better lines:

Forward, September 13, 14 ad 20, 1968

Sherwood Anderson, “A Man of Ideas” (1919)

sherwood anderson otto dix self-portrait joe welling

Otto Dix, “Self-Portrait” (1931).

Joe Welling, a man who works for Standard Oil as a distributing agent and who floods his audience with ideas, a man “who is subject to fits” of such ideas, and who falls in love with the daughter of an unliked man in town, Edward, whose 27-year-old son is a brute who may have killed a man and who was fined $10 for killing a dog with a stick in public. Joe Welling is an oddball, his ideas are absurd, he makes leaps of logic no one could (or should) follow, but his ideas are harmless, though he manages to capture an audience when he goes off on his fits: Winesburg is not exactly rich either in entertainment or in original ideas. Of course he tells George Willard that he would have wanted to be a reporter, that he should have been a reporter. George witnesses what’s expected to be a confrontation between the two King men and Joe Welling, but Welling “was carrying the two men in the room off their feet with a tidal wave of words,” a wave powerful enough to carry all three men out to go meet Sarah, the King daughter, in what appears to be the Kings’ approval of the relationship. Joe Welling is a rare type in Winesburg, Ohio: a happy man, his happiness bred on enthusiasm. Who cares if it’s irrational. Isn’t happiness inherently a suspension of the rational, considering our existential condition? (I have Welty’s Whistle still in my ears.)

Faulkner, “A Rose For Emily” (1930)

a rose for emily

Faulkner gothic. Emily Grierson is an eccentric recluse in Jefferson, Mississippi, believed to have come close to marrying a Homer Barron but failed: Barron disappeared one day. Of course he never left. She’s poisoned him with arsenic and kept him in an upstairs bedroom, the indentation in the pillow next to his suggesting an affection transcending, transgressing, death. There’d been a smell, townspeople investigated, but found nothing. It was one more reason to ridicule Emily. Previously, she’d lived with her imperious father, who’d kept her from marrying. When her father died, who knows how, she held on to his body three days before townspeople convinced her to let go. Throughout, there’s the nameless, wordless black servant, who disappears out a back door the day she dies. Old and new generations clash. If there was ever a story that illustrates Faulkner’s famous line, that the past is never dead, it’s this one, in a literal sense: Emily hangs on to Homer, her rose, because life isn’t where she is.

The Forum, April 30, 1930

Welty, “Why I Live at the P.O.” (1941)

Gold Hill Post Office, in the Virginia City Historic District, Nevada. (Brent Cooper)

Gold Hill Post Office, in the Virginia City Historic District, Nevada. (Brent Cooper) From the page: “Gold Hill is a community in Storey County, Nevada, located just south and downhill of Virginia City. Incorporated December 17, 1862, in order to prevent its annexation by its larger neighbor, the town at one point was home to at least 8,000 residents. Prosperity was sustained for a period of 20 years between 1868 and 1888 by mining the Comstock Lode, a major deposit of silver ore. Mines such as the Yellow Jacket, Crown Point, and Belcher brought in over $10 million each in dividends. The Gold Hill post office remained in operation until 1943. Today Gold Hill exists as a shell of its former self; its population in 2005 was 191. It is part of the Reno–Sparks Metropolitan Statistical Area. Historical remnants of the town can still be seen, including the Gold Hill Hotel, promoted as Nevada’s oldest hotel, in existence since some time prior to 1862; the former Bank of California building; the train depot; and remains of several of the mines.”

In the style of “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” and “Good Country People,” but with humor coating Sister’s every act and utterance like a shield. She cannot bear to say anything with a straight face. Humor is her defense and her blinders. It’s July 4. The fireworks are Sister’s family: Pappa-Daddy, his name as comical as his claim that he’s not cut his beard since he was 15 and reacts with a Hasidim’s angry panic when Stella-Rondo, Sister’s sister, falsely (purposefully) claims Sister wants to cut off the beard. Stella-Rondo has just been dumped by Mr. Whitaker, Sister’s ex-flame, stolen by Stella-Rondo, who has a two-year-old child by him, Shirley-T (named after Shirley Temple). Stella-Rondo absolutely refuses to acknowledge it’s her biological child. It’s adopted, in her invention. Uncle Rondo is the drug addict, the shock survivor (or PTSD as we’d have it these days), the veteran of World War I who ingests a bottle of a prescription narcotic every July 4 so he can knock himself out, and who wears a kimono, suggesting different treads in his sexuality. Fat Mama favors Stella-Rondo and slaps Sister around. And Sister: well, she seems to be the only employed one of the bunch, at the minuscule post office in China Grove, Mississippi, a job secured by her grandfather, and a refuge. She decides, as the story devolves into an endless series of alienating offenses, real or perceived, to pack up mounds of belongings, hers or not–if she’s paid a cent for anything, she claims it–and move to the post office, using a “Nigger girl” to haul the stuff–a sharp, brutal reference to a girl Sister has no regard for: “Took her none trips in her express wagon.” Even when she thanks her grandfather for the job, she wounds: “I says, “Oh, Papa-Daddy,” I says, “I didn’t say any such of a thing, I never dreamed it was a bird’s nest, I have always been grateful though this is the next to smallest P.O. in the state of Mississippi, and I do not enjoy being referred to as a hussy by my own grandfather.” So she’s no innocent. The story is written in dialect and takes a lot in style and perhaps aim from Twain. “One can find numerous topics for scholarly reflection in “Why I Live at the P.O.”—and in any other Welty story, for that matter,” Danny Heitman writes in a piece for Humanities, “—but my professor’s advice is a nice reminder that beyond the moral and aesthetic instruction contained within Welty’s fiction, she was, in essence, a great giver of pleasure.”

Atlantic Monthly, April 1941, A Curtain of Green (1941)

Isaac Bashevis Singer, “Guests on a Winter Night” (1969)

isaac singer

Krochmalna Street in Warsaw, where Singer’s family lived.

I must be missing something because it’s more than one guest in this longuish four-part story about the various characters who stay on Krochmalna Street, colorful as they may be. I did not get the point of the conjunctions. The story culminates with the visit from the eccentric Aunt Itte Fruman, who overstays her welcome a touch, then goes to olive with another relative (her husband has swindled her of her house, but it’s not proper to show him up), then eventually dies. Characters, anecdotes, atmosphere, but that alone doesn’t do it for me.

Forward, February 1969, The New Yorker, January 24, 1970