The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde: Summary and Analysis

The Canterville Ghost is a short story written by Oscar Wilde. It was first published in 1887. Unknown to many, this was his first published prose fiction work.

Contrary to what the title of the story may suggest, this is a humorous story at the core of which lies the differences in the American and British culture.

The Canterville Ghost: Plot Summary and Analysis

Mr. Otis , an American minister, was looking to buy Canterville Chase, a castle that  belonged to Sir Canterville. The castle was not inhabited by the Canterville family for decades now, the reason being that it was believed to be haunted.

Sir Canterville declared this upfront to Mr Otis, who discarding the haunted castle rumors offered to buy both the castle and ghost – at valuation.

Mr. Otis moved into the castle with his wife, his son (Washington), his daughter (Virginia) and his two younger twins and were greeted by the castle housekeeper, Mrs. Umney.

They noticed the blood stain in the hall and Mrs. Umney let them know that it was from when Sir Canterville brutally murdered his wife.

The family was far from spooked by this – rather proceeding to grab their cleaning supplies to scrub that spot right off the floor.

The stain came right off.

The following days, the blood stain re-appeared – although what was noticeable was that blood stain had different hues each time.

The family finally accepted there might be some truth to the rumors, but still went about their business as usual.

The ghost finally made an appearance one night and Mr Otis was the one to see him, but instead of being scared – he requested  that he put some oil into the chains so that he didn’t make so much noise while walking around in the night.

The ghost was surprised, as this was not the normal reaction he was accustomed to. Never in a brilliant and uninterrupted career of three hundred years, had he been so grossly insulted.

Taking this as an insult to his natural scaring power, he took it upon himself to make even bigger spectacles – what went on in the following days was actually opposite to what he imagined.

The kids attacked him pea shooters, and played elaborate pranks on him – on one occasion even scaring with a replica skeleton. Insulted and tired, the ghost eventually retired to his own room – feeling even more depressed.

Viriginia, Mr Otis’ daughter found him one day and was pained to see the ghost, visibly sad and distraught – who told her that he was very tired and had not slept in three hundred years.

He asked for her help – knowing that she had a compassionate heart – unlike the rest of her treacherous family.

She agreed to help him, although she was terrified of what lied ahead. They disappeared into a garden of death. 

Desperate search ensued to find Virginia – who was nowhere to be found. The family was distraught, as was the Duke of Cheshire, who had been courting Virginia for quite some time now.

Her mother was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, when Virginia finally came back to the house. She let the family know that Sir Simon Canterville, the ghost, was now at rest.

The ghost, in turn, had left her a box of rare jewels as a gift for her help.

Although Virginia never told anyone what happened in the garden of death, she always remembered Sir Simon with love and was thankful for sharing the wisdom:

Love is stronger than life and death.

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The Canterville Ghost: Review and My Thoughts

The story is a delightful read – more so because it did not turn out to be a tale of horror – which if truth be told, I do not have a stomach for.

Although the story still had a very profound message at the end, it was the characteristic humor that stood out for me.

So, you are buying a house and the first thing someone told you was that it was haunted.

What would your reaction be?

Mr Otis’ reaction on hearing this news was priceless.

I will take the furniture and the ghost at a valuation, answered the minister.

I wonder what Sir Canterville would have thought in his head, when he listened to that.

Not only that, he made it plainly clear that an incident or a commodity of that nature, if known in America, would be a rage.

I reckoned if there were such a thing as a ghost in Europe, we’d have it home in a very short time in one of our public museums, or on the road as a show.

Thinking that Mr Otis was not able to fully understand the gravity of situation at his hand, Sir Canterville made another attempt to explain.

The ghost has been well known for three centuries and always makes an appearance before the death of any member of the family, 

To which Mr Otis, quickly remarked – So does the family doctor for that matter

One hell of a lesson in lateral thinking, isn’t it?

There is no such thing as a ghost and I guess the laws of nature are not going to be suspended for the British Aristocracy.

Quite a jab at the British aristocracy there! 

British never seem to have seen eye to eye on their language:

… We really have everything in common with America nowadays, except of course, the language.

The story is replete with differences in the British and American culture, a product, I suppose, of Wilde’s experiences in America on his lecture tours there. He pays a little homage to H.W. Longfellow as well, a celebrated American poet.

Consider this –

He had hoped that even Modern Americans would be thrilled by the sight of a spectre in armour, if for no more sensible reason , at least out of respect for their national poet Longfellow, over whose graceful and attractive poetry he himself had whiled away many a weary hour when the Canterville were up in town.

Although this was a ghost story, I was still surprised to know that our ghost had actually killed his wife (I know people can be stupid, right?) for a reason that was even more surprising than the act itself – she was plain looking and didn’t cook well.

But having been rebuked by Virginia for that, he simply responds with-

Oh, I hate the cheap severity of abstract ethics

Made me think.

That is after picked myself up from the floor laughing.

Sweet and Low by Nick White: Summary, Analysis and Review

Sweet and Low is a short story written by Nick White. The story revolves around the life of a young boy Forney, who, having recently lost his father, is coming to terms with a life with his mother – a mother he doesn’t especially feel close to.

With the feeling of love comes the dread. When you love someone, you give them the power to destroy you with something as little as a look. Or a song.

This is an excerpt from a short story by Nick White, an American author noted for his debut novel How to Survive a Summer. The story Sweet and Low is one of the stories in his short story collection of the same name.

Sweet and Low: Summary and Plot Analysis

The story opens with Felicia (Forney’s mother) cleaning the house meticulously, something that was not very characteristically her, having announced to her son that she was expecting someone for dinner that day.

Forney, who hasn’t still come to terms with the fact that his mother is seeing other men, feels disgusted but resolves to make sure he knows who that man is.

The man doesn’t arrive on time and Forney is secretly happy when he tries to console his mother about being stood up.

The man, whose name is Buck, however, pulls up shortly after, apologizing profusely over his tardiness.

Dreading to see another man with his mom, he prepares for the worst but looking at the tiny and frail frame of this man, he is secretly relieved. He is convinced that his mother seems to be in this arrangement strictly for his connections.

Over the course of the evening, Forney comes to know that Buck met his mother at Country Music Palace where her rendition of Sleeping Single in a double bed bewitched him.

Buck is very appreciative of Felicia’s talents which Forney finds very hard to understand – having never experienced them first hand.

Buck continues to regale them for most of the night. Forney comes to know that Buck is a DJ, and hosts a show Buck Wild in the Morning – second most-listened program in the  Delta. He confesses to having a soft spot for happy songs.

Buck, a self confessed sweet tooth, asks them for a dessert. Felicia asks Forney to get some for him from the freezer.

Dreading the sight of his mother and Buck using it as their moment of privacy, Forney, to his relief, sees them in the driveway where Buck and his mother were sharing a cigarette.

His mother sees him off and wards off Forney’s question about the nature of the relationship between the two.

Buck’s visit to the family becomes a regular Friday occurrence – and more and more focused on Felicia’s talents.

Forney is impressed with Buck’s talent on the piano and even more so, when he listens to his mom singing for the first time. He now realizes what his father and Buck meant when they said they were enchanted by her voice.

Buck and his mom practice, often till late in the night, but Buck never stays the night. They continue to maintain a strict business-like relationship – at least in Forney’s presence.

Buck and his mother start going to small open mic gigs and on those occasions Forney is left to live with his uncle and his aunt.

Although both his uncle and his aunt pretend to not care for information about Felicia, Forney knows that they secretly wish for as much as they can get out of him. He tells them about Buck and how he is teaching her country music.

Buck drives up into the front yard one afternoon and announces to Forney that the opportunity for his mom had now come. They would be going on a trip to Memphis and this time his mother is going to take him along with them.

In preparation for the trip, both his mother and Forney shop for something classic that suits the occasion. His mother is in a very jolly mood and kisses Forney on the forehead.

This, in Forney’s words, is an atomic bomb for his senses.

Buck drives them to Memphis in his crown vic, entertains a few questions from Forney on his way there before they arrive at the Little Tina. Felicia, nervous about her upcoming performance, touches the statue of W.C Candy for luck.

The three of them get in a booth at the back, where Forney and Buck order sweet tea and Felicia goes straight for her gin and tonic. They see a performer playing quite well, only to be booed.

Felicia performs shortly after and the crowd does not even notice her presence. This breaks Forney’s heart who wanted her mother’s performance to be immensely successful. He breaks into sobs.

Buck’s friend Bishop visits shortly after, missing Felicia’s performance. Felicia and Bishop get drunk and perform again, with her mother slurring through most of the song.

Forney is disturbed by this drunkenness, and Bishop’s behavior towards his mother.

In a fit of rage, he splashes his tea on Bishop’s face. He is about to retaliate but he’s stopped by Buck.

Felicia, in an attempt to repair the damage done by Forney, announces that she will join them later and that they could go on without her.

Buck and Forney both disagree but Felicia insists that she needed to talk to Bishop to smoothen things as she feels that this will help her career.

Buck drives Forney back to stay at a motel where both of them share a cinnamon bun brought by a waitress and Buck tells him where his son was, answering a question that Forney had asked him months ago.

Both of them know that Felicia was not going to return. Forney is sure that she thinks – this is the saddest room in the universe.

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Sweet and Low: Review and My Thoughts

I find the evolution of the relationship between the mother and son endearing. Both of them were grappling with the loss of a dearly loved one; it came as a salvation to see Forney progressing from an emotionally distant son to one that breaks into sobs when his mother did not get the applause he so desperately wanted for her.

Her response does not alarm or frustrate Forney. That is their way with each other: distant with an air of suspicion.

He recognizes the feeling inside him and shudders. With the feeling of love comes the dread. When you love someone, you give them the power to destroy you with something as little as a look. Or a Song.

I loved how Nick White took a loving jab at deep South here and there. And on his road trip to Memphis:

Forney has this notion that they will see Memphis glittering in the distance, a good mile or two before they reach it. So far, however, there has been nothing but a vast stretch of nothingness in front of and behind them: a hazy wall of humidity,a diminishing wall of trees. Like they are headed away from civilization, not towards it.

I almost found myself rooting for Buck when he confesses to liking happy love songs:

The kind where it ends the way it should.

Although Nick White didn’t end the story that way, he made the journey worth the while.

A Helpless Situation by Mark Twain: Summary and Plot Analysis

Have you ever been in a situation when you were approached by a distant relative of a friend of a friend’s friend, whom you don’t know and have never heard of before, and they asked you for a favor?

If so, A Helpless Situation by Mark Twain is sure to take you for a stroll down the memory lane with the added bonus of his wit and humor.

A Helpless Situation: A Brief Summary

In this short story, published as part of his collection The 30000 Bequest, he recounts his past experience of dealing with people asking him for favors just because he knew their relatives at some point in his life – whom he doesn’t clearly even remember now.

He responds to the request via a letter, a letter wherein he mentions a hypothetical conversation with his publisher about a recommendation for the ‘seeker’ (for the sake of simplicity, let’s call this person a seeker)

He refers to the letters that he receives asking for favors, talking to them in complete disbelief, clearly mocking the senders of those artifacts.

“I have seen you a thousand times, you always look the same way, yet you are always a wonder, and you are always impossible; to contrive you is clearly beyond human genius – you can’t exist, you don’t exist, yet here you are!”

Mark Twain is amazed by the extent these distant relatives of friends go to seek favors, knowing fully well that there is no way for the ‘influential’ person to actually know anything about them to provide a recommendation. The criterion for them to reach out is simply that the person should be influential.

“In a word, to every person who is supposed to have influence. It always follows the one pattern : “You do not know me, BUT YOU ONCE KNEW A RELATIVE OF MINE.”

He expresses helplessness in this situation also indicating that someone keen and talented would not be resorting to such means.

Well, there is not a thing we can do that would be a help, for not in any instance does the latter ever come from anyone who CAN be helped.

His logical stance to describe his helplessness is no less humorous than it is eye-opening (for all of us seekers out there!)

The tribute to Mr Twain’s funny take cannot be over without reproducing at least a portion from the letter he sends to the seeker eventually hypothesizing the conversation that might have happened if he decided to send the recommendation.

So, here goes:

Publisher: She must have thought that you knew her literature and could speak for it. Is that it?

Twain: No, she knew I didn’t.

Publisher: Well, what then? She had a reason of some sort for believing you competent to recommend her literature, and also under obligations to do it?

Twain: Yes, I knew her uncle

Publisher: Knew her uncle?

Twain: That isn’t all, there are other ties. I know the cabin her uncle lived in, in the mines, I knew his partners, too; also I came near knowing her husband before she married him.

The comedy doesn’t end here though. 

Publisher: How can you know it when you don’t remember it?

Twain : I don’t know. That is, I don’t know the process, but I do know a lot of things that I don’t remember and remember a lot of things that I don’t know. It’s so with every educated person.

Publisher: Is your time valuable?

Twain: No. Well, not very.

Publisher: Mine is.

Not all of us have the wit to reply to a distant relative of a barely known friend asking us favors the same way as Mark Twain, but now thanks to A Helpless Situation, we do know how to tell them where to go, without actually saying the words.

The Loudest Voice by Grace Paley: Summary, Analysis and Review

The Loudest Voice is a short story by Grace Paley, published as part of her short story collection – Little Disturbances of Man, back in 1959. The story captures the world of a young Jewish girl living and learning about a life of balance between her roots and the world that she currently lives in.

The Loudest Voice: Summary and Plot Analysis

The story opens at a grocery store where Shirley’s mom and the grocer are having a conversation where the grocer is advising her to not be scared of her child. Her mother laments about her loud husband and daughter.

Shirley goes to school nearby, where she holds a reputation for being a loud and clear speaker.

Shirley, upon being asked by the monitor of her class, speaks with Mr Hilton, who wants to have her narrate the school Christmas play.

Having received high recommendation from her teacher Mrs.Jordan, Mr Hilton gives her the part after making her swear that she will work harder than ever before.

In a backdrop of festivities, a recently concluded Thanksgiving and soon to be up Christmas, Shirley and her family live in a culture very different from their own.

Bright as Shirley is, she performs splendidly in all rehearsals and has the teachers fully impressed with her abilities.

Her mother, on the other hand, finds the Christmas festivities and her Jew neighbors involvement in them unsettling. She has a conversation with Misha (Shirley’s dad) about it. He simply discards this as one of her tantrums pointing to the fact that other places in the world had bigger problems than Christmas for her.

Shirley with her brilliant performances and her booming voice becomes a favorite of teachers.

Despite lack of approval from her mother about her booming voice and her Christmas performance, Misha defends his daughter. He says he knows his daughter is not a fool. He wishes her good luck for her performance.

The day of the performance arrives and Shirley delivers splendidly. A Mrs Kornbluh visits them for tea and they have a conversation about it. Misha finds the play beautiful considering that it introduces them to the belief of a different culture.

Mrs Kornbluh however points that Jews got very limited parts in the play.

Shirley retires to bed, but before falling asleep she prays for everyone hoping to be heard as her voice was the loudest.

Want to read The Loudest Voice?

The Loudest Voice is a short story which is published in a collection of short stories called Little Disturbances of Man. You can use the links given below to check the price of this book:

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The Loudest Voice: Review and My Thoughts

The story is feel good on so many accounts – the amazing father and daughter relationship, a loving family, tolerance on cultural differences, the practice of yelling that the family used to silence each other and the warmth with which Shirley recalls her past. How her father’s tolerant and open minded views impressed upon the mind of a young Shirley.

Some notable quotes from The Loudest Voice

There are a few quotes from the book that brought a smile to my face as I envisioned a simple Jew household that Paley has effortlessly created.

Consider Shirley’s mother’s view when Mrs Kornbluh points to her the meagre parts that Christian children got in the Christmas play.

They got very small voices;after all, why should they holler? The English language they know from the beginning by heart. They are blond like angels. You think it’s so important they should get in the play? Christmas..the whole piece of goods-they own it.

And then her fathers when faced with his wife’s incessant banter about Christians 

You wanted to come here. You would be eaten alive in Palestine. Here you got Christmas, Some joke,ha?

His level headedness and support for his daughter is heartwarming 

What belongs to history belongs to all men. 

Does it hurt Shirley to learn to speak up? It does not. So one day, maybe she will not live between the kitchen and the shop. 

(to which Shirley quickly reminisces) Thank you Papa, it’s true about me to this day, I am foolish but I am not a fool.

A little friendly banter is again a pleasant addition to the mix, when Mrs Kornblun speaks with Shirley’s father after the play.

How’s the virgin? Asked my father with a look of concern.

For a man with a daughter, you got a fresh mouth Abramovitch

Here, have some lemon, my father said kindly. It will sweeten your disposition.

Despite the struggles of an immigrant family, I found the family and community a very closely knit and functional one. A child being brought up by loving parents, a level headed father supporting her and tolerant, rather appreciative, of other cultures.

I could not help but imagine a world with a lot more of such fathers and a lot more Shirleys – one spreading the message of tolerance while the other the message of love.

Grace Paley had a lot of foresight highlighting the importance of differences leading to a wonderful mosaic of life, where differences are at least tolerated if not celebrated.

In the world that we live in right now, the message is as relevant as ever.

A Californian’s Tale by Mark Twain: Summary, Analysis and Review

A Californian’s Tale is a short story published as part of his short story collection.  Written towards the tail end of his career, this short story sometimes seems a reflection of sorrows from his own life at that time.

A Californian’s Tale by Mark Twain: Summary and Plot Analysis

The story narrated by an unnamed traveler is set in California, decades after the mad gold rush.

The narrator admits to have tried his fate with gold prospecting along Stanislaus river failing to find any luck. He remembers it to be a lovely region, woodsy, balmy and alive. What remained now was a shadow of the town he knew from before the gold rush. It was a lonesome land now with only a few cottages inhabited.

He caught sight of a human and immediately felt a strange uplift.

The house, unlike the others around, seemed to have been thoroughly cared for, having a garden of flowers in the front yard, a pleasure to the narrator’s sore eyes.

Upon being invited by the homeowner, Henry, a middle-aged gentleman, the narrator obliges and finds a tour of the house pleasantly refreshing. 

Being used to the harsh life of a miner, everything about the house uplifted his spirits. Every nook and cranny was tastefully done and Henry took pride in mentioning that all of it was his wife’s work.

His mentions of his wife reek of worship and adoration.

While washing himself up, the narrator happens to look at the picture of a beautiful young woman and soon realizes that she was the owner’s wife.

Spellbound by her beauty, he inquires about her and gets to know that she is away visiting her parents 50 miles away and will be back in a few days.

Feeling a pang of disappointment, the narrator mentions that he would not be staying that long, but is eventually convinced by Henry to stay back and leave only after meeting her.

Not very long after, he has a visitor named Tom who asks for the whereabouts of Henry’s wife. Henry informs him that she would be back on Saturday, and reads her letter for Tom.

Tom breaks down but mentions it’s only because he was expecting the missus to be back sooner.

Another friend Joe visits them and expresses the same dissatisfaction of not being able to see her.

The day arrives but the wife doesn’t arrive.

Henry starts to get a bit restless and asks the narrator multiple times if he thought everything was fine with her.

Another friend Charley visits them, pacifies Henry in his worrisome state, and urges him to stop worrying and to start working on wrapping up the decorations for her welcome.

As they are done wrapping up the celebrations, Joe and Tom arrive as well and the party begins. The men begin drinking. Henry’s three friends ensure that he did too but he continues to gaze at the road waiting for his wife’s return.

The men continue to make him drink while he feels sick with worry and asks for their help in order to lie down. Almost falling asleep and starting to mumble, he imagines hearing horse’s feet, when his friends tell him that the wife is going to be 30 minutes later.

Henry is asleep when his friends begin to leave.

The narrator asks them to stay back as Henry’s wife would not recognize him because he was a stranger. The friends then tell him that his wife had been dead for nineteen years and that Henry has not been sane ever since.

Each year during the time of the year when she was supposed to return, his friends visit him, ask about her, help with decorations and welcome and sedate him so that he could get some peace. They had been doing it for him for the last nineteen years, to spare him the grief and pain his memory caused.

A Californian’s Tale: Review and My Thoughts

I loved the story for the intense passion with which Henry seems to adore his wife.

She seems to be an adorable and beautiful woman. Henry and his friends speak so highly of her that even our narrator got hooked. There is a vivid image that Twain painted about the woman we don’t actually get to see in the story, but we develop a soft spot for her.

With all the television and movies that I have watched all my life, I must admit that I did sense something to be off with the whole Henry and his wife setting, but I didn’t anticipate her death. And at the hands of Indians!

Two themes in the story stood out the most – Love and Friendship

1 – The love between the husband and the wife

The woman, teenager at the time, is cheerful and full of life. Her loving letters to her husband and his adoration for every little thing she did, makes me weak in the knees, the classic aww moment. Consider this, for example:

She did it all by herself – every bit.

I’ve seen her fix all these things so much that I can do them all just her way, though I don’t know the law of any of them. But she knows the law. She knows the why and the how both; but I don’t know the why; I only know the how.

It’s not just a husband that loves his wife but has a very healthy respect and admiration for what she was.

2 – Having friends helping through tough times

Having friends that stand by you, no matter how difficult life gets, is a real privilege. Henry’s friends, completely aware of the fact that he had lost his sanity, instead of running away, did the very thing that true friends would do – they stood by him.

They helped him cope the only way they know how. It’s sweet. It’s the silver lining in Henry’s dark tragic fate.

Never has he been sane an hour since, but he only gets bad when that time of the year comes round. Then we begin to drop in here, three days before she is due, to encourage him up, and ask if he’s heard anything from her, and Saturday we all come and fix up the house with flowers, and get everything ready for a dance. We have done it every year for the last nineteen years.

You cry tears of sorrow for the tragedy.

You cry tears of happiness for Henry’s friendship.

Sad and Sweet. Not a very common combo.

Ladies and gentlemen, that’s what Mark Twain can do to you, even with the shortest of his stories.

In the story, what spoke to you the most?

Please share your thoughts in Comments!

Mister Yummy by Stephen King: Summary, Analysis and Review

Mister Yummy is a short story written by Stephen King. It was first published in 2015, as part of his short story collection The Bazaar of Bad Dreams.

Mister Yummy: Summary and Plot Analysis

The story is set at Lakeview Assisted Living Center and details the last days in the life of an elderly homosexual – Ollie Franklin and his friend – Dave Calhoun.

It opens with Olga, another elderly resident at the facility, trying to complete the pieces of a puzzle with Dave by her side, whom she mistook to be her husband, who died two years ago.

Ollie joined in as Olga stepped out for her smoke break and soon they realized that the puzzle had a few missing pieces.

Ollie asked Dave out for a walk in the garden, a request which surprised him a bit but he complied regardless. Shortly after, he offered Dave a family heirloom as a token of gratitude for their friendship, as he was sure that he would be dying very soon.

Dave, although initially hesitant to accept such a precious family heirloom, eventually agreed to accept the gift.

Ollie attributed the certainty of his death in the near future to very frequent visits by a Mister Yummy.

He went on to describe the events that led to him meeting him one fine day in New York, and how the beauty of that man was forever etched in his memory.

Listening to this conversation brought back memories of such an experience for Dave – where he happened to see a redhead in his teens. Ollie died later that day, and Dave noticed when visiting his room for one last time, that he had a sketch of a beautiful man lying on the bed- an unmistakable Mister Yummy.

Olga’s memory began to deteriorate even further and she mistook Dave for her husband even more frequently now. Dave started to have visions of the redhead as well, each vision of her being closer to him than the earlier.

He saw her for the last time while having dinner with his son – Peter – at a restaurant, where he offered Ollie’s pocket watch as a gift to him.

Want to read Mister Yummy?

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Mister Yummy: Review and My Thoughts

The story is likeable for so many reasons. The observations on human nature are on point.

Consider these for example –

Dave recognizing Ollie just by the sound of his cane

As a young man, Dave wouldn’t have believed that you could ID someone simply by the sound of his cane, but as a young man he had never dreamed he would finish his time on earth at a place where so many people used them.

Dave playing along as Olga’s husband sportingly, taking into account that loss of memory is justified with advancing age.

Since when are you Bob?

“He was her husband. You remember. Came here with her, died two years ago.

Actually, a funny little jab at the Eiffel tower came as a welcome relief from the saddening portrayal of old age.

La Tour Eiffel. Did you know that there was a protest when it was under construction?

No, but I am not surprised. The French.

The artist Léon Bloy called it a truly tragic street lamp.

Some other artist or writer- I can’t remember who- claimed that the best view of Paris was from Eiffel Tower, because it was the only view of Paris without the Eiffel Tower in it.

The reason why portrayal of the old age and its by-products was particularly haunting – is that its so very real and relatable to a lot of us – if not now, sometime in the future.

They walked toward the patio, where they would climb the steps as carefully as they had descended them. Once they had lived in Raegan era; now they lived in the era of glass hips.

Life’s a great thing, but if you live long enough, it wears you out before it runs out.

I would not have called it a horror story but for the latter statement. Makes me think (read depresses me) more than I would care to admit.

Stephen King mentioned in the notes to this story that he discussed the rough sketch with a friend who didn’t approve of it citing the reason of  him being a straight man and not having enough perspective or much to add to what is already known about AIDS, to which he responded saying that all he wanted to write about was the brute power of human sex drive.

How in a right or a wrong night, all reason, all sense of risk, all logic and all caution is swept away- things that need to be done, needed done.

Ollie’s obsession with Mister Yummy and Dave visions of the redhead are cases in point. They are elderly and in Dave’s words have one foot in the grave and another on a banana peel. But their memories so far back in time are still as fresh as ever when it comes to people who made them feel the way they did-even for one brief second.

I can’t help but recall one of Dave’s quotes as he sits in the garden with Ollie thinking of all the ordinary luxuries.

When Dave Calhoun thought of death-not so far off now- the prospect that he regretted most was the loss of the sensory world and all its ordinary luxuries-taste of lemon pie with a cloud of meringue on top, and smell of flowers, sound of Cozy Cole going on drums.

It’s the simple pleasures that count, In a mad race to get where we want, we lose sight of the inevitable end. The years can pass us by and it wouldn’t be long before we are one of those glass hip people. Let’s stop for a second and smell the flowers, shall we?

A Telephonic Conversation by Mark Twain: Summary and Review

A Telephonic Conversation is a short story written by Mark Twain. It talks about a telephonic conversation that ensues between a woman and her friend, a Mrs.Bagley, while the woman’s husband passively listens to a one-sided conversation writing an article on a philosophical subject in the meantime.

Telephone

What comes to mind when you read this word somewhere or some old relative says that to you?

For me, the sound of the word immediately brings back memories from childhood, and if not that scenes from old Hollywood movies with the device demanding familial attention with its loud and incessant trrrring, trring and the receiver immediately rushing to it, holding one piece to the mouth and another to the ear. 

People talking on the phone, as if expecting their voice to reach the other person without the telephone, and in the process, shushing every other sound made in the entire household. I get carried away in a whole different world

So, why am I suddenly talking about telephones?

I recently read a short story by Mark Twain, part of his collection, The 30000 Bequest.

I read the story and couldn’t help but smile. And well, Good things are supposed to be shared.

So here’s a sneak peek into the humor-filled world of Mark Twain’s telephonic conversation.

A Telephonic Conversation: Summary and Plot Analysis

The story revolves around a telephonic conversation that ensues between a woman and her friend, a Mrs.Bagley, while the woman’s husband passively listens to a one sided conversation writing an article on a philosophical subject in the meantime.

There is something very relatable about the story, something that almost all of us can relate to, at some level.

Here is a small excerpt..

Yes, Why? How did that happen?

Pause

What did you say?

Pause

Oh No, I don’t think it was

Pause.

Humans have an innate tendency to attempt to fill in the blanks whichever way they can. I am sure you could remember some homework back from your school, where you were supposed to fill in the blanks..

The dog jumped _______ the bridge.

Name of the President of X country is ______.

If x = 2, then 2X =_______

Now take the earlier conversation and fill in the pauses. The result could be funny, your homemade version of Netflix for a lazy evening, if I may.

The comments of the husband delivered in a typical deadbeat manner, were funny.

Subtle complaint about the the woman’s volume when talking on the phone –

I heard the following remarkable series of observations, all from the one tongue, and all shouted – for you can’t ever persuade the sex to speak gently into a telephone.

It might not be your wife that does it today, with smart phones and all, but I can bet you know an elderly female relative or two that will fit that description.

In closing the story Mark Twain presents this little monologue.

Must you go? Well, Good-by.

Pause.

Yes, I think so. Good-by.

Pause.

Four o’clock then – I’ll be ready. Good-by.

Pause.

Thank you ever so much. Good by.

Pause

..

..

When the woman finally hangs up, she does not do that without a sigh ‘Oh, it does tire a person’s arm so!’

Witnessing all this here is what the husband says

A man delivers a single brutal “Good-By”, and that is the end of it. Not so with the gentle sex – I say in their praise; they can not abide abruptness.

My thoughts on the story

The USP of this little story is its relatability. It is something that we see happening around us ever so often.

Taking such a mundane thing and turning into stuff that makes you smile.

That’s the genius of Mark Twain and his telephonic conversation.

Memento Mori by Jonathan Nolan: Summary, Analysis and Review

Memento Mori is a short story written by Jonathan Nolan. In this short story, he takes time and its relationship with a man to a whole new level, and introduces the reader to to what he calls a ‘ten-minute man’.

“Believing the lie that time will heal all wounds is just a nice way of saying that time deadens us.” 

Memento Mori: Summary and Plot Analysis

The story revolves around Earl, a patient of anteretrograde amnesia (a condition that involves short-term memory loss), having sustained injuries from a gruesome assault – one that also led to the death of his wife.

He is shown to be stuck in time just before his wife’s murder. His life is a long array of ten-minute chunks, after every one of which he is a clean slate.

The story opens with Earl waking up, with no memory, in what looks like a hospital room, covered in what seems to be filled with predominantly white colors. The room is rather large and he finds notes stuck everywhere from his toothpaste, his washroom or his cigarettes.

By the time he starts making sense of the environment, his memory resets, and he finds himself going through this – sometimes even doing the same thing – over and over again.

The story goes back and forth between two different settings.

The first one is where Earl is confined to a mental health institution. He goes about with his day following the notes that he has left for himself.

The second one being the one where he seems to be on the run trying to hunt down the man that killed his wife and reduced his life to that of a vegetable.

The author delves into the deeper topic of life and its meaning, looked at from the perspective of a person whose ability to make new memories is severely impaired. This is captured through a constant dialogue that happens between him ten minutes back and him in the present.

His past self mentions forgetting and how that is deeply embroiled in the life that he lives, every 10 minute chunk to another. His past self reminds him that his wife is dead and that he might be hurting but he will forget it in the next 10 minutes.

His condition in addition to him not being able to remember anything, is a constant reminder of what misfortune led him to that point. 

Memento Mori: Analysis and Review

Locked in his hospital room, and through means of notes that he leaves for himself, he tries to devise ways to make use of his life, to get revenge, the irony being that he would never remember having sought revenge, even after he did. Turning his life into one gigantic Groundhog day replay albeit in painful 10-minute chunks. 

Memento Mori is derived from Latin and means ‘remember to die’.

In olden days, this was a reminder for people to be living a moral life keeping in mind the inevitable judgement day.

There are a variety of interpretations and adaptations of this concept in other cultures.

Earl buys himself a bell to serve as the memento for himself. This bell, on which he inscribes his date of birth and date of incident, later appears when he looks for a pen after completing his mission. He lives outside of time.

In his conversations with his past self, there are a lot of epiphanic moments, some humor, some hopelessness which alternate in intensity, but a burning desire for revenge shines.

Consider, for example, when the Past Earl mentions forgetfulness to him, taking a dig at his state and the society that we live in.

Sure as hell can’t hold a job. Not too many professions out there that value forgetfulness. Prostitution, Maybe. Politics, of course.

Another one, where he blatantly discredits his current state and tries to reinforce his purpose – revenge.

So the question is not “to be or not to be”, because you aren’t. The question is whether you want to do something about it. Whether revenge matters to you.’

In his desperation of not being able to do anything with his limited time and a continual reset, he even goes to the extent of blaming his inaction on cowardice.

‘And time eventually convinces most of us that forgiveness is a virtue. Conveniently, cowardice and forgiveness look identical at a certain distance. Time steals your nerve.’ 

And to the advantages of having a list for a person as impaired as him

It’s like a letter you write to yourself. A master plan, drafted by the guy who can see the light, made with the steps simple enough for the rest of the idiots to understand. Follow steps one through one hundred. Repeat as necessary.’

And it might sound cliché’d but the wisdom in these words cannot be undermined.

‘After all, everybody else needs mirrors to remind themselves who they are . You are no different’

Although overshadowed by its cinematic counterpart, Memento – a movie by Christopher Nolan, this short story has a lot to offer and promises to stay in your memory much longer than Earl’s.

Jakarta by Alice Munro: Plot Summary, Analysis & Review

Jakarta, a short story by Alice Munro, first appeared as part of her collection of short stories in Love of a Good Woman.

Jakarta: Plot Summary and Analysis

The story is set in Vancouver and spans over three decades, starting in the 1950s and lasting until 1990s. It is narrated in a back and forth manner and is split in four parts. Part I and III are set in the 1950s whereas Part II and IV are set in the 1990s.

Part I of the story opens at a beach where Kath and Sonje, two young married women, are hiding behind logs at a beach to avoid the eyes of a group of women they call Monicas – who came there everyday with a bunch of kids in tow.

Kath and Sonje both dread the stage of lives these Monicas are in, Kath more so, being a new mother herself to a baby girl named Noelle.

Kath and Sonje knew each other from the Public library that they both used to work at.

Kath was married to Kent, a conservationist, whom she didn’t feel particularly very attached to, while Sonje was married to Cottar, a free-spirited journalist and a very liberal husband whom she adored.

It was Cottar’s trip to Red China which triggered the scandalous publicity of him being a left-wing writer and that using her job as a librarian, she might be promoting communism among children to further her husband’s cause.

Sonje was not fired, but she quit anyway – to accommodate upcoming changes in their lives.

Kath secretly admired Sonje – both her looks and her intelligence.

One day as they were discussing a story by D.H Lawrence, they got into a fight – which reveals to Kath that she had never felt about Kent the way Sonje felt about Cottar – that Sonje’s happiness depended on Cottar.

She never wanted that to be true for her, but then she never wanted Sonje to think that she was the woman that had missed out on love.

Part II of the story features Kent and Sonje, who happen to meet in the present(1990s), while Kent reminisced events from their past. He went to Sonje’s with his much younger wife, one she mistook to be his daughter.

Looking at Sonje, hearing her speak, her house, her mannerisms, all brought back memories from the past for him.

He got to know that Cottar died more than 30 years ago, caught a bug and was buried in Indonesia before the news got to Sonje.

Sonje took care of his mother till her death (she was best friends with her). They converted her house into a dancing school. The way the house was set up still reminded him of their place from years ago.

He was surprised by how talkative Sonje was, which was in complete contrast to her personality that he had known, perhaps the loneliness causing that transformation in her.

Part III of the story had an account of the party that Sonje and Cottar threw before Cottar’s trip to Indonesia and Sonje’s to Oregon to take care of his mother. The party had a big crowd – friends, neighbors and Monicas.

Once Noelle was asleep, Kath put the baby in the care of the baby-sitter and proceeded to participate in the celebrations. Kath and Sonje met and professed how much they valued their friendship and that they were going to miss each other. 

Kath let Amy do her makeup and she was absolutely impressed with her made up appearance.

Feeling rebellious, she danced and was making out with a stranger when the babysitter called her in to nurse the baby. She got back only to see that Kent was already there with the baby’s bottle. She almost concluded that Kent did not see her with the stranger but  the reaction from Kent convinced her otherwise. Guilt-ridden, she proceeded to wash all the make up off her face.

Part IV of the story is back to the present again where Sonje and Kent are talking to each other. Sonje reveals that she had an idea where she thinks that Cottar might not be dead at all. That she was going to go to Jakarta in person to inquire all about Cottar.

Convinced that he was alive, she was desperate in making Kent see the logic of it. 

Kent, convinced that this was a bad move, in complete honesty, let her know what he felt about it, albeit not with his youthful brashness this time. He wondered if Sonje and Kath were still in touch and if Sonje was going to tell Kath about how good his life looked. He couldn’t help but wonder how Kath and Cottar got away.

While one was, more likely than not, dead, the other couldn’t be more alive – yet both were somehow unreachable. 

Want to read Jakarta?

Jakarta is a short story which is published in a collection of short stories called The Love of a Good Woman. This collection won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2013. You can use the links given below to check the price of this book:

Check Price on Amazon US
Check Price on Amazon Canada
Check Price on Amazon India

Reasons why you would love this story

Like every other Alice Munro story, this one is a wondrous little short story, an astute observation of human nature.

But what stood out in this one was the added layers of complexity and the back and forth narration device. The story is replete with instances that are so real, you can easily find yourself in one of them.

Consider, for example, her description of Monicas –

Where’s your hat? Where’s your ball? You have been riding on that thing long enough, let Sandy have a turn.

Even when they talk to each other, their voices have to be raised high, over the shouts and squalls of their children.

How many times have you seen this happening? How many times have you done this? I can bet that you can find yourself in a beach right now living the same conversation, if not witnessing it second hand.

Munro is pure magic, I tell you.

When she nurses her baby, she often reads a book, sometimes smokes a cigarette, so as to not sink into a sludge of animal function.

It’s scary how she observes, like the human soul is laid bare in front of her eyes and she can pen it with a daftness, I can only believe is second nature to her.

It seemed to her (Kath) that life went on, after you finished school, as a series of further examinations to be passed. The first one was getting married. If you hadn’t done it by the time you were twenty-five, that examination had, to all intents and purposes, been failed.

I can’t tell you how many times I have had this conversation with friends, sometimes fully sober, sometimes in a stupor induced philosophical state. 

Look down, look down – see how the reeds wave in water, they are alive but they never break the surface. And that is how female nature must live within his male nature. Then she will be happy and he will be strong and content. Then they will have achieved a true marriage.

I am not surprised that she would say such a thing, considering how much a society at that time would value patriarchical dominance/influence.

My happiness depends on Cottar.

This is scary, very scary.

And out the window goes every teacher’s wisdom that told you to be happy inside. That reasons of your happiness should not be outside of you. That your happiness is fully dependent on some one else. And that their entry or exit from your life spells an instant doom for you. (this statement and the one before it don’t resonate with earlier statements – they are two different things).

No wonder Kath didn’t want that for herself. I am on her side. 

She changed the spelling herself and scorned her mother’s frivolity. They all scorned their parents then, for something.

Little things like this- children not seeing eye to eye with their parents. Times have changed but this thing never did. It’s as relevant in 2020 as it was way back in 1940s. .

You would expect an old mother would be grief-stricken talking about how her only child had run off and left her, but no. Maybe old people aren’t like that. Really old people. They don’t get grief-stricken anymore. They must figure it’s not worth it.

This one was a terribly tiny tale – a story in itself. Made me think.

Just when you crown her the queen on the sombre human nature, she drops humor on you. She can bring a smile to your face as simply as she can bring tears to your eyes.

There wasn’t any insurance?

Don’t be silly.

If there had been insurance, they would have found out the truth.

This story with so many layers is laden with gems. Exploding with gems rather.

But If I had to pick just the one, I would pick this one- a thought on Kent’s head

You picked up the wrong idea, surely the wrong idea. That somebody dead might be alive and in Jakarta. But when you knew somebody was alive, when you could drive to the very door, you let the opportunity pass.

It was painful to see the composed Sonje, who was completely and thoroughly in control of herself, lost it all for Cottar. Her life and happiness, in a way, were always dependent on Cottar.

She was ready to chase the elusive, chase the unicorn to get the love of her life back. She was sure that he was alive and all she had to do was to track him down.

On the other side was Kent, seemingly composed on the surface, having an interesting life, young wife and all that you would think that would make a person happy, but beyond the surface lied the longing for Kath.

Kath, who wasn’t far from him at all, very much alive, so much so that he could drive up to her house and show right at the door. But he doesn’t choose to do that; he chooses to live life in the past and wonder what it would have been.

Humans are complex and no one has done a better job of bringing that to the fore than Alice Munro. And she does that consistently.

“It’s a wonderful thing for the short story,” Munro said of her Nobel Prize noting that her kind of writing is “often brushed off as something that people do before they write their first novel.”

Well, to be completely out of the line, I don’t think that is true, for each of her stories is equivalent to multiple novels and more. She can do more in a short story that one can do in a novel. That’s her superpower. 

If you have watched The Godfather III and are an Al Pacino fan, you might remember a line from the movie where Al Pacino goes – “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in”.

My relationship with Alice Munro’s stories is the same. Although unlike Pacino, I am loving every minute of it.

Was It Heaven? Or Hell? by Mark Twain: Summary and Review

Was it Heaven? Or Hell? is a short story that was published in early 1900s as part of Mark Twain’s short story collection The 30000 Bequest.

As a child, have you ever been told not to lie? 

Or lying is bad?

Or lying brings you terrible misfortune?

Lying is possibly the worst thing that you can do?

And what puzzled you as you grew was the same people that told you all those things resorted to lying themselves, correcting you when you pointed it out to them saying ‘ ‘that was for good reason’ and ‘not all sorts of lying is bad’?

Leaving you confused where exactly was the line that separated a good lie from a bad one?

This short story is going to take you a trip down that memory lane.

Was It Heaven? Or Hell?: Summary and Plot Analysis

The story revolves around a female family of four, Margaret Lester, a widow in her late thirties, her teenage daughter Helen, and two righteous maiden twin aunts, Hannah and Hester Gray.

The story opens with the aunts confronting Helen for a lie she confessed to have said.

Theirs was a world where lies had no place. It was something unthinkable. So having their darling Helen confess to lying evokes consternation from the elderly women and they demanded that she confess to the lie in front of her sick mother.

The child implores them to excuse her behavior just that once and spare her mother the agony of her confession of a lie, but her requests fall on deaf ears.

After all, with a duty no compromise is possible.

All said and done, the decision is made. Helen is to visit her mother in the sick room and confess to her lie.

Sobbing and desolate, Helen begs for forgiveness from her mother.

The doting mother, caring not for the lie, immediately forgives her and embraces her to calm her down, as the elderly aunts witness the scene.

It’s at this time that the family doctor makes his presence felt and softly whispers to the aunts to clear out the space and give the sick woman some time to rest.

He appears half an hour later with Helen, who seemed to have returned to her natural cheery self. He quickly examines her, declares her fit  and healthy. He asks her to go back to her room, and excuses himself from her company to talk to the aunts.

Expressing his disappointment at the women for creating a ruckus, he lets them know that Margaret was suffering from typhoid.

The women, terrified of this news, when attempting to rush back to Margaret are stopped by the doctor, who demands a reason from them behind creating a scene.

They  tell him that it was Helen’s lie that started it all.

Infuriated at hearing this, he reprimands the women for their inability to differentiate a helpful lie from a hurtful one and causing incredible danger to both Helen and her mother in the process.

In an attempt to understand why the women were so hell bent on exposing the lie, he discovers that women feared that lying would cost them their soul if they died without the time to repent.

Shaking his head in disbelief he asks the women to reform and learn to be able to tell lies. He then appraises them about the state of health of both Margaret and Helen and indicates that a night and day watch would soon be required for them.

The health of the mother and child continues to deteriorate while the old women continue to dedicate themselves in their service.

The mother implores to see her child but Hester forbade it, fearing that exposure to typhoid might put Helen’s health at risk.

Understanding the gravity of the situation at the drop of a hat/ immediately, the mother accepts the separation from her kid to keep her from harm’s way.

When asked if her daughter was well, Hester ends up lying to say that Helen was well. Hester speaks to Hannah about the lie and Hannah takes it upon herself to expose the truth to her.

Hester begs her not to, as she thinks that this would have grave consequences on Margaret’s health. Hannah, upon seeing Margaret, ends up lying as well, much to the relief of her sister.

Helen’s health continues to deteriorate and she succumbs to the disease soon after in Hester’s arms, happy in her final moments mistaking her for Margaret.

Margaret continues to enquire about letters from her daughter. In an attempt to comfort her , they fake a letter from her and continue to lie about her well being. 

Margaret’s final day comes soon after and she dies never knowing that her child died before her. Hannah and Hester are happy knowing that she was spared the grief.

An angel visits Hannah and Hester at midnight. The women confessed to their human weakness in front of the angel and lifted their heads in supplication. The angel whispered the decree.

Was it Heaven? Or Hell?

Was It Heaven? Or Hell? Review and My Thoughts

For a moment, let’s assume that heaven and hell exist, what do you think happened to the women?

Should they be going to hell because they lied? They bent the rules. They were lost.

Should they be going to heaven because being dedicated in their service to Margaret and Hester all their lives, they made sure they comforted them all through their dying days and spared both of them unwanted grief in their final moments?

If nothing else, making you feel the itch of not knowing a definite answer to this question, is going to make me feel good. Misery loves company, doesn’t it?

And Yes, I am definitely going to hell for saying that.

But seriously, what do you think of the ending of the story?

I would be happy to hear your thoughts on what happened in the end because I admit that I am torn. And thanks to Mr Twain’s characteristic writing in this piece haven’t been able to brush the ending off my mind.