“She is, her comrades tell her, full of romantic error, for what she defines as cynicism in them is merely ‘a developed sense of reality’.”
Not too long ago I finished reading the collected short stories of Jean Stafford and decided that, since it was a collection of smaller works, I’d write mini-reviews of each smaller work. I was pretty successful with that, I think – it helped me process the stories a bit better, instead of being overwhelmed by the sheer amount of them, like I was by John Cheever’s collection. So I’m applying that same approach to today’s review of The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter, who won the Pulitzer Prize for this collection in 1966.
This anthology collects three short story collections that were previously published and includes four additional stories that were previously unpublished; it’s a comprehensive compendium of her short stories and, though she is more well-known for her novel, Ship of Fools, it is her short stories which reveal more about her and showcase her talents more.
I. “Flowering Judas and Other Stories”
Katherine Anne Porter’s first collection of short stories, originally published in 1930, introduced the world to a writer who was not yet a master of the short story, but was definitely posturing herself as one of the best of her time. These twelve selections constitute a remarkable literary debut, impressively showcasing not only Porter’s exceptional talent but also her tremendous range.
Eight of the twelve stories in this collection take place in Mexico during the Mexican Revolution, and all of the stories, in some way, have an international flavor, and even, in one story, deal with filmmakers making a Communist propaganda film, but politics/nationalism don’t really have a place in her writing. Instead most (all, in a way) of the stories have a theme of people struggling to survive, struggling with their own personal conflicts and demons, in a world filled with conflict that is outside of themselves and beyond their control.
There are couple weak links in this chain of stories, of course – not every story can be perfect and even a writer as lyrical and incisive as Porter can miss the mark; I’m thinking of a couple stories in this collection that are meandering, directionless, and kinda sorta pointless. However, it is her prose that reels me in and keeps me engaged; there wasn’t one story in the entire collection that left me content in complacence at the conclusion – each left me pondering what I’d just finished reading, each needed a few minutes to absorb and digest – and I think that’s the mark of a successful short story writer.