My rating: 3 of 5 stars
50 Great Short Stories (1952) is edited by Milton Crane and contains stories no later than 1954 (the second edition), despite being reissued in September, 2005. So there are no new stories in this collection (none in the last sixty years, that is).
The earliest story in the collection was the famous ”A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor and this story was copyrighted in 1953. The only other stories that come close were published in 1947 and 1948. It looks like the second edition was primarily to include O’Connor’s classic tale of the grandmother who fought the Misfit and lost. Any stories after that, however, seemed to be unfit for this specific collection of ”great” stories.
The collection starts with a bang with ”The Garden Party” (1922) by Katherine Mansfield and then tumbles its way through some well-known stories that are usually read in high school and college. There’s Hemingway’s ”The Three-Day Blow” (1925), E.M. Forster’s ”The Other Side of the Hedge” (1947), Henry James’s ”Brooksmith” (1892), Rudyard Kipling‘s ”The Courting of Dinah Shadd” (1899) and Alexander Poushkin’s ”The Shot” (1894) translated by T. Keane.
One story that somehow escaped my university years and was a first read was E.B. White‘s ”The Door” (1939). Only five pages long, ”The Door” nevertheless packs a punch about a man feeling trapped like a rat in a maze. Here is a bit from that story that I thought would resonate among some readers even in today’s world:
”For although my heart has followed all my days something I cannot name, I am tired of the jumping and I do not know which way to go, Madam, and I am not even sure that I am not tried beyond the endurance of man (rat, if you will) and have taken leave of sanity. What are you following these days, old friend, after your recovery from the last bump? What is the name, or is it something you cannot name?” (p 352).
E.B. White does have a way with language that is still accessible even today.
Another story that stood out among the others was ”How Beautiful with Shoes” (1932) by Wilbur Daniel Steele. A madman who quotes history and poetry escapes and kidnaps a young farm girl who is wearing her best Sunday shoes. They pass a night together and somewhere in their time together, in all that insanity, the girl gets a glimpse of what love should be like before the madman gets his head blown off with a shotgun. What a story!
There are many stories that were quite exceptional but would never, never be published under modern tastes. One such story was Robert Louis Stevenson‘s ”Thrawn Janet” (1887). Even the editors forgot to include this story with the 49 others in the ”Copyright and Acknowledgments” section, despite dedicating the 50 stories to Tom and Peter, whoever they might be.
Here are a few sentences from ”Thrawn Janet” (Good luck):
”They baith come bit by bit, a pickle at a time; and there were folk even then that said the Lord had left the college professors to their ain devices, an’ the lads that went to study wi’ them wad hae done mair and better sittin’ in a peatbog, like their forbears of the persecution, wi’ a Bible under their oxter and a speerit o’ prayer in their heart” (p 548).
This story took some time getting through. And all I can say is the story is about ghosts and devils haunting a house.
The collection ends with a truly funny story. ”The Chaser” (1940) by John Collier had me laughing and almost falling off the stationary bike in the gym. Alan runs into an old peddler of tonics and mixtures and other such potions. The old man has a few choices and offers these to Alan. There is the expensive ”Glove-Cleaner”, also known as the ”Life-Cleaner”, at a whopping 5,000 dollars (and that is in 1940’s money too). There is also the ”Love potion” at only one dollar. And that is where the kicker comes in.
Alan decides to buy the love potion for a single dollar because he wants Diana to be truly and madly in love with him. He is already in a relationship with her but Alan wants a deeper and more meaningful relationship.
The old man explains:
”She will want to know all you do,” said the old man. ”All that has happened to you during the day. Every word of it. She will want to know what you are thinking about, why you smile suddenly, why you are looking sad.”
”That is love!” cried Alan (p 559).
I believe Alan will be coming back in a few months to get that ”Life-Cleaner” potion after all.
This collection of “50 Great Short Stories” are ”great” stories most readers call classics, and many fewer readers will want to read. A writing mentor once told me that tastes change, and from this collection I can tell that they have. Times are very different than they were sixty and seventy years ago, so I am not sure how we can continue to judge stories and other forms of writing. Regardless, as readers we can always appreciate stories that last and can have an impact even today, and this collection, or a good majority of it anyway, does exactly that.
If you love reading stories, and good stories that will make you laugh, cry, and think, then take a chance and read this book.
- Shadows Everlast (cgfewston.me)
- The Man with the Golden Gun (1965) by Ian Fleming (cgfewston.me)
- A Good Man is Hard to Find and Sufjan Stevens (mysteriesandmanners.wordpress.com)
- My Interview with Author K.P. Ambroziak (aprillwood.wordpress.com)
- An Analysis of Self-Love from John Collier’s “The Chaser” (christliteratureculture.wordpress.com)
- A Farewell to Arms (1929) by Ernest Hemingway (cgfewston.me)
- The Potion Mistress – a short tale of the Lochie Witches (karensoutar.wordpress.com)
The American novelist CG FEWSTON has been a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome (Italy), a Visiting Fellow at Hong Kong’s CityU, & he’s a member of the Hemingway Society, Club Med, and the Royal Society of Literature. He’s also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) based in London.
He’s the author of several short stories and novels. His works include A Father’s Son (2005), The New America: A Collection (2007), The Mystic’s Smile ~ A Play in 3 Acts (2007), Vanity of Vanities (2011), A Time to Love in Tehran (2015), Little Hometown, America: A Look Back (2020); and forthcoming: Conquergood & the Center of the Intelligible Mystery of Being; A Time to Forget in East Berlin; and, The Endless Endeavor of Excellence.
He has a B.A. in English, an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors), and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing & Fiction. He was born in Texas in 1979.
You can follow the author on Facebook @ cg.fewston – where he has 400,000+ followers