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three short story collections that were previously published and includes four additional stories that were previously unpublished; it’s a comprehensive compendium of her short stories and, though she is more well-known for her novel, Ship of Fools, it is her short stories which reveal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.
III. “The Leaning Tower and Other Stories”
After finishing the last collection of stories in this anthology, I can only conclude that Katherine Anne Porter deserves to be in the pantheon of the great American writers. While it seems like Porter was overwhelmed by her influences (namely James Joyce, Flannery O’Connor, Edgar Allan Poe, and, perhaps, Jane Austen), she wrote with a masterful deftness and with utter precision. What I mean is her influences really show up in her stories, but her incredible writing makes up for it.
This last group of stories seems to center around the theme of change, or adapting to change. Whether it’s the lifestyle change African-Americans faced in a post-slavery America; or the changes a German family face after a brutal storm ravages their farm and the family matriarch dies; or the changes Berliners faced and the tension and hostility they harbored after the Great War (by the way, Porter writes like a prophet in the titular story, accurately predicting the lead-up to World War II); or the changes an urban Irish couple face when their daughter moves away from home and the family patriarch takes on a new job.
Throughout all of her stories, there’s a quiet morbidity, a grotesqueness, a bit of horror, and a lot of mystery which is indicative of Southern Gothic or Victorian literature. But there’s also an unspeakable beauty in her writing.
Even in her weaker stories, Katherine Anne Porter’s writing is captivating.