Read Short Stories: Five Decades Online
Authors: Irwin Shaw
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Contemporary, #Historical, #Short Stories & Anthologies, #Maraya21
Many thanks to my editor, Kathy Anderson, for her invaluable assistance and advice
Bought by Maraya21
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To Arthur Stanton
Main Currents of American Thought
The Girls in Their Summer Dresses
Search Through the Streets of the City
The Lament of Madame Rechevsky
March, March on Down the Field
Free Conscience, Void of Offence
The City Was in Total Darkness
The Passion of Lance Corporal Hawkins
The Sunny Banks of the River Lethe
The Man Who Married a French Wife
God Was Here But He Left Early
Where All Things Wise and Fair Descend
Introduction by Irwin Shaw
am a product of my times. I remember the end of World War I, the bells and whistles and cheering, and as an adolescent I profited briefly from the boom years. I suffered the Depression; exulted at the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt; drank my first glass of legal 3.2 beer the day Prohibition ended; mourned over Spain; listened to the Communist sirens; sensed the coming of World War II; went to that war; was shamed by the McCarthy era; saw the rebirth of Europe; marveled at the new generations of students; admired Kennedy; mourned over Vietnam. I have been both praised and blamed, all the while living my private life the best way I could.
I have written stories in Brooklyn, Greenwich Village, on Fifth Avenue, in the
office on 43rd Street, in Connecticut, Cairo, Algiers, London, Paris, Rome, the Basque country, on ships, in the Alps, in the Mojave Desert, and bits and pieces on transcontinental trains.
All these things, in one way or another, are reflected in my stories, which I now see as a record of the events of almost sixty years, all coming together in the imagination of one American. Of course there are gaps. Other writers have filled many of these but some remain and will never be filled.
Why does a man spend fifty years of his life in an occupation that is often painful? I once told a class I was teaching that writing is an intellectual contact sport, similar in some respects to football. The effort required can be exhausting, the goal unreached, and you are hurt on almost every play; but that doesn’t deprive a man or a boy from getting peculiar pleasures from the game.
In a preface to an earlier collection I described some of those pleasures. Among them, I wrote, there is the reward of the storyteller, sitting cross-legged in the bazaar, filling the need of humanity in the humdrum course of the ordinary day for magic and distant wonders, for disguised moralizing that will set everyday transactions into larger perspectives, for the compression of great matters into digestible portions, for the shaping of mysteries into sharply edged and comprehensible symbols.
Then there is the private and exquisite reward of escaping from the laws of consistency. Today you are sad and you tell a sad story. Tomorrow you are happy and your tale is a joyful one. You remember a woman whom you loved wholeheartedly and you celebrate her memory. You suffer from the wound of a woman who treated you badly and you denigrate womanhood. A saint has touched you and you are a priest. God has neglected you and you preach atheism.
In a novel or a play you must be a whole man. In a collection of stories you can be all the men or fragments of men, worthy and unworthy, who in different seasons abound in you. It is a luxury not to be scorned.
Originally this book was intended to contain all of my stories, but when the count was made the total came to eighty-four, and to include them all would have meant a formidably bulky and outrageously expensive book. Since my publishers and I agreed that we did not wish to produce a volume that the reader could neither carry nor afford, we fixed on sixty-three stories as a reasonable number and began the sad process of winnowing out the ones we would leave behind. It was a little like being the commander of a besieged town who knows he cannot evacuate all his troops and is forced to decide who shall go and who shall stay to be overrun by the enemy. And the enemy in this case might be oblivion.
The experience of going through the stories was also something like what is supposed to happen when a man is drowning, as scene after scene of his life passes before his eyes. If the drowning man is devout, it can be imagined that in those final moments he examines the scenes to determine the balance between his sins and his virtues with a view toward eventual salvation. Since I am not particularly devout, my chances for salvation lie in a place sometime in the future on a library shelf. These stories were selected, often with doubts and misgivings, with the hope that a spot on that distant shelf is waiting for them.
The Eighty-Yard Run
he pass was high and wide and he jumped for it, feeling it slap flatly against his hands, as he shook his hips to throw off the halfback who was diving at him. The center floated by, his hands desperately brushing Darling’s knee as Darling picked his feet up high and delicately ran over a blocker and an opposing linesman in a jumble on the ground near the scrimmage line. He had ten yards in the clear and picked up speed, breathing easily, feeling his thigh pads rising and falling against his legs, listening to the sound of cleats behind him, pulling away from them, watching the other backs heading him off toward the sideline, the whole picture, the men closing in on him, the blockers fighting for position, the ground he had to cross, all suddenly clear in his head, for the first time in his life not a meaningless confusion of men, sounds, speed. He smiled a little to himself as he ran, holding the ball lightly in front of him with his two hands, his knees pumping high, his hips twisting in the almost girlish run of a back in a broken field. The first halfback came at him and he fed him his leg, then swung at the last moment, took the shock of the man’s shoulder without breaking stride, ran right through him, his cleats biting securely into the turf. There was only the safety man now, coming warily at him, his arms crooked, hands spread. Darling tucked the ball in, spurted at him, driving hard, hurling himself along, his legs pounding, knees high, all two hundred pounds bunched into controlled attack. He was sure he was going to get past the safety man. Without thought, his arms and legs working beautifully together, he headed right for the safety man, stiff-armed him, feeling blood spurt instantaneously from the man’s nose onto his hand, seeing his face go awry, head turned, mouth pulled to one side. He pivoted away, keeping the arm locked, dropping the safety man as he ran easily toward the goal line, with the drumming of cleats diminishing behind him.