It’s story time folks and this month I have chosen to feature the master storyteller, William Sydney Porter (1862 – 1910) or O. Henry. Apart from being an acclaimed short story writer, he was also a gifted musician with impressive drawing skills.
O. Henry had a checkered career that involved pharmacy, drafting, journalism, and banking. While at the bank, he was accused of embezzlement and though his father-in-law offered to bail him out, he preferred to flee. He had to come back when his wife fell terminally ill. His father-in-law posted bail that allowed him to be by his wife side until her death. He was then imprisoned for five years. But he was lucky enough to be spared the jail cell for he was allowed to practice pharmacy and given a room in the hospital.
O. Henry’s collection of short stories was one of the very first books that I bought with my own money (and hence all the more precious!). The heartbreaking and poignant The Gift of the Magi and The Last Leaf, stand out vividly in my memory from eons ago. In O. Henry stories, I particularly enjoy the unexpected twist endings which fascinate and impress like no other. Perhaps that’s part of the reason I feel compelled to include twist endings in my stories. But lately as I re-read his stories, I am bowled over by his witticism and clever wordplay, which I can never hope to match.
For this story club, I spent a pleasurable couple of hours reading his stories – the ones I hadn’t read before. One of them, The Romance of a Busy Broker immediately touched a chord and I fell in love with the short and sweet story.
Do read it before scrolling down as there are spoilers ahead.
As the title suggests this is about a busy broker Maxwell. Even after I finished reading the story, I can still vividly see Maxwell’s office as clearly as if I had emerged from a movie screening. And the humorous turn of phase, brings a smile whenever I think of it. Take for instance this line:
Maxwell dashed at his desk as though he were intending to leap over it, and then plunged into the great heap of letters and telegrams waiting there for him.
“He did,” answered Pitcher. “He told me to get another one. I notified the agency yesterday afternoon to send over a few samples this morning. It’s 9.45 o’clock, and not a single picture hat or piece of pineapple chewing gum has showed up yet.”
I read the latter section twice, quite sure that there was a typo somewhere! The crisp and exacting words painted images that refuse to go away long after one had moved away from the story.
And this day was Harvey Maxwell’s busy day. The ticker began to reel out jerkily its fitful coils of tape, the desk telephone had a chronic attack of buzzing. Men began to throng into the office and call at him over the railing, jovially, sharply, viciously, excitedly. Messenger boys ran in and out with messages and telegrams. The clerks in the office jumped about like sailors during a storm. Even Pitcher’s face relaxed into something resembling animation.
While I would like to draw your attention to his liberal use of words ending with ly (against current exhortations to avoid them like the plague 😉 – jovially, sharply, viciously, excitedly not even the most critical critic can accuse him of using clichés:
She was beautiful in a way that was decidedly unstenographic.
I also love the fact that unstenographic is not a word but should clearly be in the dictionary 😀
But I saved the best piece for the last:
In the midst of this growing and important stress the broker became suddenly aware of a high-rolled fringe of golden hair under a nodding canopy of velvet and ostrich tips, an imitation sealskin sacque and a string of beads as large as hickory nuts, ending near the floor with a silver heart. There was a self-possessed young lady connected with these accessories; and Pitcher was there to construe her.
This one just blew me away and I still can’t stop giggling. I have only one reservation. It also evokes dejection, envy and despair – I cannot even dream of coming anywhere near sort of exposition.
But before things get really bad, I just read it once again 😀
Moving on, in the story, if you remember, there is mention of lilac odor. Now I am not familiar with the odor and since Google is as yet unable to let me experience it, I subconsciously replaced it with the scent of mogras or jasmine flowers. The combination of the office scene and the fragrance was a potent one.
Before I had finished reading the story, a story in the Indian setting played out.
I attempted to pen it but it took quite a while to actually draft it and grew longer (4000 words approx.) than I wanted it to be. Besides, it looked so much better in my head. But since I put in so much effort I thought I would go ahead and post it.
If you can read it without feeling bored, I will consider it worth the zillion redrafts. If you like, you can read it here. And if you do read it, do let me know if you managed to finish it, what you liked and what you didn’t.
Thanks so much for visiting.
A quick recap of the Story Club:Rules are simple (and breakable) :
- Advance announcement of name of short story, one that is freely available on the net.
- Story maybe a folktale or in the local language. But an English translation should be freely available on the net. Or participant could post the translated version along with his or her review.
- Bloggers should post on their blog.
- The basic idea is to gain from each others rich heritage of literature and be able to understand a little bit more than before and of course have fun!
Anyone interested in hosting the next month’s Story Club? Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you don’t want to host a story club, but if you have a favorite short story, do share it – thanks!