Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty & Other Short Stories by James Thurber

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and other Short Stories
Review: 3 -

"A solid collection of short stories" by Carissa Horton, written on October 25, 2015

The last time I read a collection of short stories, it was for college and I graduated nearly 2 years ago. It might not seem like a long time, but it really is, especially when you're expecting The Secret Life of Walter Mitty to be a a novella and it turns out to be a short story, barely 7 pages long. I forget that short stories are often published in volumes because they're not what I usually read. Hmm, I guess that explains why the first two "chapters" had nothing whatsoever to do with Walter Mitty. Once comprehension dawned, I was able to appreciate James Thurber's dry and somewhat irascible humor. Although I still think the marketing for this particular collection was all wrong. How many people picked this up thinking it was a novella only to be disappointed? We'll never know.

I came away from this collection with two main thoughts: Thurber did not think kindly on women and he possessed an excellent sense of humor.

When I say that Thurber didn't like women, it's possible I'm wrong, but we suffer immensely at his hands regardless of his personal feelings for us as a sex. Nearly every wife in the entirety of this collection is viewed as a nag and a nitpicker whose sole joy in life is tearing down every one of her husband's joys. In The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Mitty's wife is the sort I've just mentioned. Poor, middle-aged man whose wife doesn't understand or appreciate his rich and varied imagination. Thank goodness they changed poor Mitty's story in the film starring Danny Kaye so the nitpicker in his life is actually his mother and he claims some of his own back at the end which includes marrying the girl of his dreams. Next up is the starring couple in A Couple of Hamburgers. While the husband here is no gem, the wife gets sadistic enjoyment out of mocking her husband: the way he speaks, his favorite type of restaurant, etc. You name it, she mocks it. If I thought the last mentioned story was depressing, it's nothing compared to The Kerb in the Sky, where a newly married man gets admitted to an insane asylum because his wife finishes every single one of his sentences before he gets there, and corrects all of his stories. He took to sharing absurd dreams so at least she couldn't interrupt.

The humorous stories, however, are absolute gems. The Macbeth Murder Mystery is hilarious because the two leads dissecting one of Shakespeare's finest plays, discover that Macbeth's father is actually the murderer in this story and that everything else is simply written to conceal the actual truth. For a Shakespeare fan like myself, it was both absurd and fun. A Ride with Olympy also had me giggling simply because I could easily picture an American man teaching a Russian man to drive a stick shift when each one of them can only communicate with the other in barely understood French. Had anyone died in the endeavor it would have been a tragedy, but no one did. The Luck of Jad Peters is about a man who spent the better portion of his life expounding on how he had a feeling about something, so didn't do it, and something terrible happened to someone else who took his place. Narrow escapes were his greatest glee, especially since they were mostly made up. And because I can and do enjoy some dark humor, I snorted out loud when he got hit by a massive flying rock that was dynamited out of the river bed. His good luck failed him. It is The Night the Bed Fell that had me rolling practically in stitches. It's almost impossible to describe, but it's one of those domino effects. One thing happens that triggers something else which triggers something else and so on and so forth. Genius.

There are other stories included in this collection as well that only served to depress me because it's a bleak view of life: The Breaking up of the Winships, Something to Say, The Remarkable Case of Mr Bruhl, The Greatest Man in the World, The Evening's at Seven, and One is a Wanderer. While I realize no one's life is perfect, still, this was too much, probably because each one struck a little too close to home. Others, like The Lady on the 142, The Catbird Seat, The Secret Life of James Thurber, Doc Marlowe, Snapshot of a Dog, and The Dog that Bit People were average tales, nothing overly impressive, but still a fairly entertaining read.

Overall, the collection was quite good. Like I said, I don't read a lot of short stories anymore, probably because most authors, particularly inn the era of the 20s through the 50s, loved to indulge themselves in extremely depressing stories. I don't like to read those types of stories and so I avoid them when at all possible. Still, the collection was worth it simply for The Night the Bed Fell which I now claim as one of my favorite short stories of all time!

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