Charles by Shirley Jackson: Summary, Analysis and Review

For those of you that loved The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, here comes another tale, less fictional and more realistic this time. It’s about Shirley Jackson’s early trysts with raising children that were, more often than not, outside her comprehension and control.

Loosely based on events from her own life while raising children in the 1940s, this is a humorous tale about gullible parents and the problematic child. 

Charles by Shirley Jackson: Summary and Plot Analysis

The story revolves around a very young kid who has recently started Kindergarten and his mother is disheartened at the end of an era where his kid’s clothes have changed from a bib to jeans and a shirt and him enjoying the company of an older girl, not looking back to say goodbye to his mother.

At the end of the first day, when asked what he learned that day, Laurie quickly mentions that he “didn’t learn nothing” and quickly goes on to mention that a kid called Charles was spanked by the teacher for being fresh. 

A similar thing happens the day after where Charles is the highlight of Laurie’s day. Charles was bad again today. He hit a teacher.

The parents, flabbergasted, had hardly digested the news when Laurie plays a trick with his dad that ends up with him saying to his dad, ’Gee, you are dumb.’

His parents continue their questioning about the events of the day and get to know that the reason for Charles hitting the teacher was simply an instruction to use a color of crayon that he didn’t particularly like. 

The events that follow get considerably more interesting. Charles, the little class rebel, seems to have become a highlight in all of Laurence’s daily reports – and has become a name evoking much interest in their household. 

Charles had all sorts of misbehavior under his belt – hitting a teacher, hitting fellow children, teaching classmates bad words, disrupting class, to name a few.

What seems curious is that Laurie mimics that behavior at home. His mother sees this and worries that Charles is a bad influence on her sweet little son. Charles is such a name in the household that they start calling mischief as ‘pulling a Charles’.

Laurie’s mother is looking forward to the PTA meeting, hoping to see Charles’ mother – planning to recognize her as the most haggard-looking woman.

She does not see anyone who matches that description. 

She meets the teacher and is surprised to discover that Laurie had difficulty adjusting to Kindergarten and that he has been improving now.

She discards that input considering it to be simply Charles’ influence on her son. 

The teacher is visibly confused hearing that name and tells her that they do not have any student named Charles, leaving it to an implicit conclusion that it was Laurie and not Charles that was causing all the trouble at school.

Charles: Review and My Thoughts

“Yes,” I said, laughing, “you must have your hands full in that kindergarten, with Charles.” “Charles?” she said. “We don’t have any Charles in the kindergarten.”

These two lines from the story encapsulate the complete story in them. 

How often do we look inward when questioned? 

How often is it the neighbor’s kid’s fault when our kid gets into a fight? 

And how often are other parents credulous having a kid ‘pull such a thing’ straight under their noses?

Guess ostriches are not the only creatures that close their eyes and believe that their hunter (problem) went away.

Shirley Jackson amazes us once again with her astute observations and excellent penmanship!

The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro: Summary and Review

Where would your mind take you if someone said the words ‘the love of a good woman’ to you?

If your mind quickly takes you to classic romantic movies of yore, a wife tirelessly sacrificing her life for her husband, you are the same as the rest of us.

What’s more is that this titular story from this short story collection by Alice Munro is going to take you and that notion of yours for a ride.

The Love of a Good Woman: Summary and Plot Analysis

The story is a four part plot that starts in Walley. The first part – Jutland – begins with a museum.

A very strange exhibit is being displayed in the museum, a red box containing medical instruments which were once owned by an optometrist D.M. Willens.

Mr. Willens tragically drowned in the Peregrine river, in what seemed like an accident. The submerged body and car were discovered by three young boys – Cece, Bud and Jimmy.

Bud and Jimmy fail to inform their parents of their discovery, feel guilty about not doing so the first day. They try to go and meet Mrs. Willens, who seems to be completely unaware of her husband’s absence, hands the boys flowers to take home and retires back home.

The news does finally reach the police and Mr. Willens death is now known, and three of those boys have new nickname now: Deadman.

Part two makes an abrupt change to what seems like a completely different setting. (This reminded me of the time when I first read the Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle and the abrupt plot change somewhere in the middle).

We are now tracing the life of Enid, a saintly soul as her mother calls her, is a middle aged nurse. She is currently employed by the Quinns, taking care of an ailing Mrs. Quinn, who is dying of a kidney failure.

Mr. Quinn is a farmer and an old classmate of Enid’s. They have two daughters.

Mr Quinn is shown to be a silent man, while Mrs Quinn is a cranky woman, who constantly whines about everything including her husband’s absence, albeit a lack of it doesn’t seem to comfort her much.

Enid, who is regarded by her mother as a saint for her selflessness, is constantly tormented by erotic dreams and is ashamed by them.

Part three connects the earlier two parts of the story by establishing a link between Mr Willens and this family, when one fine day, Mrs Quinn starts talking to Enid about Mr Willen’s death.

In her version of the events that led up to Mr WIllen’s death, Mr Willens, a lecherous old man, was touching her inappropriately while examining her.

Rupert, having witnessed this, in a rage of passion, grabs Mr Willens and bangs his head on the floor till he dies.

Suddenly realizing that Mr Willens is dead, Mrs Quinn proposes to dispose of the body in the nearby river in his car so as to make it look like an accident. She helps Mr. Quinn carry out this plan.

In a flashback, it is also shown how Enid having once seen his father with another woman, is silenced by her mother saying that it might have been a figment of her imagination

Fourth part of the story deals with the events that follow Mrs. Quinn’s death.

Enid, who seems to have developed feelings for Mr Quinn, is torn between her desire for companionship and her moral obligation to do what is right, which is to expose Rupert for the crime he committed.

There is no way for her to be sure that Mrs Quinn’s version of events was real or a figment of her imagination spouted by her disturbed mind in a diseased body. She devises a scheme to test Rupert, by asking him to row her out in the middle of the river and then letting him know what Mrs. Quinn told her.

Rupert will then have the choice to kill her and remove all the evidence of his crime.

The story closes with Rupert getting the oars while Enid waits for him and her fate at the riverbank. What happens next, is totally left to reader’s imagination.

Want to read The Love of a Good Woman?

The Love of a Good Woman is a short story which is published in a collection of short stories called The Love of a Good Woman. This collection won the Giller Prize and National Book Critics circle prize. You can use the links given below to check the price of this book:

Check Price on Amazon US
Check Price on Amazon India

The Love of a Good Woman: Review and My Thoughts

This short story collection by Munro went on to win many accolades – including the prestigious Giller Prize and National Book Critics Circle prize.

There is a reason why this story is celebrated the way it is. Such an astute description of a world built on lies! How change of perspective completely changes the story and that perception, more often than not is usually based off only a cursory understanding of events. The deeper you go, the more you discover.

It’s endearing to see that how remarkably real her characters are. As always she does magic with her kid characters, the way only she can. Consider for example the time that she has spent with the three kids – Cece, Bud and Jimmy.

The way she captures their innocence and their dark worlds is haunting.

Some endearing quotes from The Love of a Good Woman

And yet they hardly thought of each other as friends. They would never have designated someone as a best friend or a next best friend, or joggled people around in this position as girls did.

This brought back a flurry of childhood memories, where nothing in the world mattered more than your  friend reciprocating the esteemed honor of best friendship bestowed upon them.

Those walking home for dinner were mostly men. The women were already there- they were there all the time. But some women of middle age worked in store or offices for the reasons that were not their fault.

A little depiction of what the old world looked like, where women had very specific responsibilities in the family, it’s hard to believe that this was our world not very long ago. Working women a fault. Hmm.. Oh how the times have  changed and thanks for that!

A little sibling jocularity coming from Munro is the sweetest kind. This does not fail to put a nostalgic smile to my face every time I read it.

In a family of mostly females, a boy remarks about his sisters

“They stationed  themselves in front of every mirror in the house with the shelf underneath always loaded with bobby pins, pennies, buttons, bits of pencils”. Ah, the young vanity!

And then the sibling playfulness, the elder and the mighty playing with a younger one’s limited understanding of things around.

“Look, She’s putting lumps in the mashed potatoes again. He had his brother convinced that lumps were something that you added , like raisins to a rice pudding from a supply in the cupboard”

This is a perfect description of a mother with too many quarelling young kids to manage. This is in fact too real for me.

“Leave that pie alone. Stop swearing. Stop tattle-telling. Grow up”

You would feel that this can not be topped. Yet Munro seamlessly transitions from the children’s world to the adult world staying as true to the characters, as it possibly can be done. I marvelled at her deft maneuvering of both the worlds.

“Enid thought she knew what this meant, this spite and venom, the energy saved for ranting. Mrs.Quinn was flailing about for an enemy. Sick people grew to resent well people, and sometimes that was true of husbands and wives, or even of mothers and their children.”

By the time I was done reading the novel, I wondered and wondered, went on a lot of journeys. To the past and to the future. To memories with my siblings, to my classmates growing up, my girlfriends, my workplace, my mother, and that’s hell of an after effect of any story one could read. 

Alice Munro is often touted as Master of Contemporary short stories. And this book is a window to the reason behind that.

Taming the Bicycle by Mark Twain: Summary, Analysis and Review

I wonder what your first thoughts were looking at the title of the story.

Maybe a memory from childhood or a snapshot of some TV program where the protagonist ended up in a ditch, not able to control their bicycle?

Well, just when you thought you had seen it all and laughed all you could at your bicycle misfortunes, Mark Twain brings you some of his own with Taming the Bicycle, published as part of his collection What is Man and Other Stories.

Taming the Bicycle: Summary and Plot Analysis

In the early eighties, Mark Twain learned to ride one of the old high-wheel bicycles of that period, the form of bicycle that has long been antiquated. Twain’s account of his bicycle adventures are far from it though.

So Mr Twain saw an ad for a bicycle, thought he could do it and bought one alongwith a barrel of pond’s extract ( Guess what your friendly neighborhood Ponds cream was called back then!). He also hired an instructor from the company, who was to teach him the tricks to tame the wheely monster.

Mine was not a full-grown bicycle, but only a colt – fifty inch – and skittish, like any other colt.

The instructor explained a few key points and demonstrated how easy it was to ride one – mentioning that the tricky part was actually to dismount.

Twain soon realized that it was contrary to his own experience.

Although I was wholly inexperienced, I dismounted in the best time on record. He was on that side, shoving up the machine; we all came down with a crash, he at the bottom, I next, and the machine on top.

One crash followed after the other and regardless of how Twain, the bicycle or the instructor were positioned at the start of practice, the end result was always the same – instructor at the bottom, bicycle on top and Twain sandwiched between the two.

One of those practice runs even landed them in a hospital. Fortunately, the injuries were minor and Twain and his bicycle lived to tell the tale.

Twain notes: I attribute this to my prudence in always dismounting on something soft. Some recommend a feather bed, but I think an Expert is better.

The instructor was discharged from the hospital and shortly after, the practice sessions resumed – this time with four new assistants.

Twain continued to struggle with this new learning experiments; skills required to master this craft always seemed to be at loggerheads with his natural instincts. Seeing the error of his ways, Twain realized that he needed to do the intelligent thing – he needed to evolve.

The intellect has to come to the front now. It has to teach the limbs to discard their old education and adopt the new.

He ultimately draws learning from his struggles with the German languages to conquer his new enemy – the bicycle.

But I also see, by what I have learned of bicycling, that the right and only sure way to learn German is by bicycling method. That is to say, take a grip on one villainy of it at a time, and learn it – not ease up and shirk to the next, leaving that one half learned.

He continues to work his way around the bicycles – to master balance, art of mounting, art of steering and art of dismounting – all of which result in rather funny endings, but not without great lessons – mostly comic.

Mark Twain notes on the art of mounting: 

Then the mounting art is acquired and a little practice will make it simple and easy for you, though the spectators ought to keep a rod off or two to one side, along the first, if you have nothing against them.

And then the art of dismounting:

Try as you may, you don’t get down as you would from a horse, you get down as you would from a house afire. You make a spectacle of yourself every time.

After eight days of daily lessons, he is pronounced fit to paddle a bicycle without outside help. He tries to refute the argument that he could have done it himself without instruction by saying that such a  move could have been risky for him considering his natural clumsiness. 

Consider his thoughts on a self taught man, for example:

The self taught man seldom knows anything accurately.., and besides he brags, and is the means of fooling other thoughtless people into going and doing as he himself has done. There are those that imagine that the unlucky accidents of life – life’s experiences – are in some way useful to us. I wish I could find out how. I never knew one of them to happen twice. They always change off and swap around and catch you on your inexperienced side.

He concludes that receiving proper instruction could have more than one benefit and in case of cycling, that added benefit could be saving up on Pond’s extract.

So the instructor, after asking a few questions about his strength and receiving unsatisfactory answers, eventually leaves him with the advice to keep practicing.

Then he left me, and I started out alone to seek adventures. You don’t really have to seek them – that is nothing but a phrase – they come to you.

Devoid of the encouragement from the instructor and his assistants, Twain takes a rather solo journey of  learning the bicycle. However unbeknownst to him a boy  gives him company in his adventure, though not in the form he expected. He paints a rather funny picture of this boy and the way he supported him through his practice sessions.

He was full of interest and comment.The first time I failed and went down he said that if he was me he would dress up in pillows, that’s what he would do.The next time I went down he advised me to go and learn a tricycle first. The third time I collapsed he said he didn’t believe I could stay on a horse-car.

Of course, Twain does not let this teasing get to him, he continues on with his practice sessions marvelling at how the bicycle has exposed unknown areas of the path he had been using for years. Little stones, cats, dogs, anything that came along his way, was bound to make him lose control and bite the dust, his falls usually resulted in injuries to him, while the bicycle stayed indestructible. 

Dogs eventually presented a bigger challenge than the stones on the path:

They all liked to see me practice, and they all came, for there was very little going on in our neighborhood to entertain a dog. It took time to learn to miss a dog, but I achieved even that.

Twain leaves us with a little bicycle wisdom as well:

Get a bicycle. You will not regret it, if you live.

I am afraid I can say the same for this essay by Mark Twain. Grab your copy and read it now!

Reading this essay, in addition to grinning like an idiot when not guffawing like one, I couldn’t help but think of my initial bicycle learning days when I was a kid looking like the Vitruvian man both when sitting on and falling off my bicycle, calling my mom every time I mounted or dismounted it.

I thought my days were hard, but when I looked at this picture to see the bicycle Twain conquered, my own traumatic ‘bicyclical’ past faded away.

Mark Twain and his bicycle are my new favorite , and there ain’t gonna be no dismounting that bookshelf soon.

The bicycle Mark Twain was trying to tame.

P.S. Assuming that I was able to convince you to read Taming the Bicycle by Mark Twain, and you eventually were able to find time to do so, what section did you like the most?

Did anything from the story remind you of your own bicycle adventures?

We would love to hear from you! 

The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde: Summary, Analysis and Review

The Happy Prince is a short story written by Oscar Wilde. It is the story of a compassionate statue and how it falls in love with a bird which is separated from its flock.

Every now and then, I feel myself drawn to children’s books – mostly because I am drawn to children; things about them, things for them – they’re all so exciting. Adult novellas feel drab in comparison.

And it was one of those days, I happened to pick up a copy of the Happy Prince and Other Tales, a short story collection by Oscar Wilde.

The Happy Prince: Summary and Plot Analysis

Happy Prince revolves around our Happy Prince, the only catch being that our Happy prince is a statue!

He lived in a town full of poor, suffering people but had no idea that was the case, as he lived in a palace with all material comforts and where sorrow was not allowed to enter.

We also have a swallow (a migratory swift-flying songbird with a forked tail and long pointed wings) in the story, who has been left behind, as the rest of the flock flew away to Egypt.

The swallow, upon finding a sweet spot in the new town on her way, settled down at the feet of the Happy Prince and is almost about to doze off when she feels rain drops over her. Curious at this occurrence, as there are no clouds in the sky, she realizes that it was tears from the Happy Prince statue.

She learns that the Happy Prince is appalled by the poverty around him and requests the swallow to take the gems from ‘his body’ (the statue) to help those in need – the sick, the lonely, the children.

The beautiful statue covered in gold leaf, first loses the ruby from the hilt, the sapphire from its eyes and the golden leaves all over its body.

The swallow initially insisted on leaving to join her flock but eventually decided to stay back out of compassion as the statue was blinded after losing both the sapphires that it had for its eyes.

As her final day approached she flew over to say one final goodbye to the prince. The prince confesses her love for the swallow, they kiss and the swallow dropped dead at its feet.

Devoid of all the adornments, the statue was not a pleasant sight anymore. The mayor of the town orders the removal of the statue to erect his own in its place.

The metal from the statue is melted while the frozen and broken heart of the statue was thrown out in the heap of garbage along with the dead bird. Both of these are taken up to heaven by an Angel that considers them the two most precious things in the city.

God then decrees that they live forever in His “city of gold” and garden of Paradise.

Want to read The Happy Prince?

The Happy Prince is a part of a short collection written by Oscar Wilde, which is available on Amazon if you want to get yourself this book. You can use the links given below to check the price of this book:

Check Price on Amazon US
Check Price on Amazon India

The Happy Prince: Review, Quotes and My Thoughts

Okay, so confessions first.

You all know that one person in the group that cries at the drop of a hat.

I bet you will get a flood of tears out of them when they read this – 

It is not Egypt that I am going. I am going to the house of death. Death is the brother of sleep. Is he not? Kissed the prince on the lips and fell down dead on his feet.

After so many selfless deeds, when the swallow saw the Prince for one last time, and the Prince unable to understand that it was her death that she was talking about – assuming she was flying away to her flock – wishes her luck, although his heart broke.

He still did that out of love. His final confession of love for the bird was simply heartbreaking, not to say that the bird dropped dead shortly after.

When I was alive and had a human heart. I did not know what tears were, for I lived in the palace of Sans-souci where sorrow is not allowed to enter.

It was remarkable how compassionate the Prince was, considering the fact that he had never seen poverty or sorry of any kind. It’s only when he becomes a metal statue does he feel all these emotions. Ironic isn’t it?

We had a lovable machine way before Wall-E, my friends!

“Bring me the two most precious things in the city” said God to one of his angels; and the angel brought him the leaden heart and the dead bird.

“You have rightly chosen” said God, “for in my garden of Paradise, this little bird shall sing for evermore, and in my city of Gold the Happy Prince shall praise me”.

And for this deceptively simple lesson in kindness and compassion –  is as appealing to an adult as it is to a kid.

You don’t have to trust me on this. So many on-screen adaptations of this story worldwide are a testimony to that very fact going as far back as 1936 to as recent as 2016. 

What does that tell us?

Oscar Wilde’s stories age better than whiskey.

The Five Boons of Life By Mark Twain: Summary, Analysis and Review

The Five Boons of Life is a short story by Mark Twain published as part of his collection, The 30000 Bequest and Other Stories.

It’s different from his other stories in that it does not have our humorous Mark Twain saying things that make us grin like idiots in awe of his wit, but something to mull over, something to reflect.

The Five Boons of Life: Summary and Plot Analysis

The fable, as the title suggests, is about the five boons of life. It features a fairy and a man over the span of a man’s lifetime. It is divided into five chapters.

Chapter 1

Enter Fairy who has arrived with gifts.

‘Take one, leave the others ’- she says.

The five options on offer are – Fame, Love, Riches, Pleasure and Death.

Without a second thought, the young man chooses pleasure. It does not take him long to realize that it was not a good choice – as each of those pleasures were short-lived, vain and empty.

He regrets his choice and resolves to choose wisely if the opportunity ever presents itself again.

Chapter 2

Man has aged a bit now, Fairy makes an appearance again and grants him another wish. He has the option to choose from the rest of the four.

The man chooses love this time thinking that it had to be the right decision.

Years have passed since that visit from the fairy – every loved one the man ever had, either left him or the world. He is pained with grief and curses love from the bottom of his heart.

He lost way more than he gained, trading with the monstrous Love.

Chapter 3

Fairy reappears and now offers the man to pick one from the remaining three.

Man chooses fame this time. The fairy grants the wish and leaves.

The man enjoys fame, but that experience of enjoyment does not last long either. Fame is quickly followed by envy, persecution, derision and pity. He sits there alone, marinating in hopeless self-loathing.

Chapter 4

The man being given the choice between Wealth and Death this time, chooses Wealth, considering himself utterly foolish for not having done that before.

Wealth, he thought, was the answer to everything.

The result of this one was worse if not better than ones from his previous choices. Three years after choosing wealth, the man sat in rags, cursing wealth and coming to realize the most precious wish of them all – Death.

Chapter 5

Man is ready to embrace death when Fairy appears and offers him to choose again, but there is a twist.

The man can only choose from the four options that he had used before. Death was not an option anymore for the man.

What lay ahead of him was something worse – and in Mark Twain’s words – The Wanton Insult of Old Age.

Want to read The Five Boons of Life by Mark Twain?

The Five Boons of Life is a short story which is published in a novel alongwith other short stories written by Mark Twain. You can use the links given below to buy this short story collection on Amazon:

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

The Five Boons of Life: Review and My Thoughts

‘If you were granted one wish, what would you ask for?’

Growing up, someone must have asked you this question at least once. It is not just something that children marvel at, but is also a good conversation starter for adults.

Now, I do not know about you, but I have been asked that question many times in my life, so much so that it’d  be a miracle if it does not make a monthly appearance at some conversation or the other.

What’s more intriguing is how the answer to that question changed for me as I grew older.

I distinctly remember the first time I was asked this question. And I answered like any ice-cream loving kid would,  ‘An Ice cream truck’.

Of course, I couldn’t have the satisfaction of having my imaginary ice-cream truck, because I was immediately told what a stupid choice that was.

If I were you, I would have asked for ‘I wish for every wish of mine coming true’

That was the Big revelation. How smart! How Intelligent! Why didn’t I think of it?

Of course I couldn’t, because I was stupid. And my neighbor was smart.

And then Life happened. (It’s still happening by the way; I am not that old)

Like the man in Twain’s story, I have craved for some of those things. But with a growing stack of life experiences, I’ve come to realize that there is no end to desire.  Getting one is always followed by an immediate craving for the other and then another and so on and so forth. 

The fable is not new. You have some version of this in every culture and even if you are not familiar with this particular story, you are not new to the idea.

Equipped with whatever you took from the story, if I were to ask you, for the n-th time..

If you were to be granted one wish, what would you ask for?

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.

Want to read The Canterville Ghost?

The Canterville Ghost is a short story which is published in a collection of short stories. You are welcome to use the links given below to check the price of this book:

Check Price on Amazon US
Check Price on Amazon India

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.

Want to read Sweet and Low?

Sweet and Low is available on Amazon if you want to get yourself a copy. You can use the links given below to check the price or buy this book:

Check Price on Amazon US
Check Price on Amazon India

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:

Check Price on Amazon US
Check Price on Amazon India

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!