Saturday, November 08, 2008

Collected Stories and Other Writings

With the publication of Collected Stories and Other Writings, Katherine Anne Porter, author of Ship of Fools, some twenty-six short stories, numerous essays, sketches, speeches and reviews, becomes part of the remarkable Library of America series (its 186th volume) honoring the work of America’s greatest and most important writers.

This one-volume collection, edited by Porter biographer Darlene Unrue, includes all of Porter’s short stories (including the three that Porter herself preferred to call “short novels”) and eighty nonfiction pieces, most of which have been out-of-print for years. Of particular interest among the nonfiction pieces selected for this volume by Unrue are two previously unpublished autobiographical essays written in 1933 and 1974 in which Porter discusses her early life and the influences on her writing. And, of course, readers searching for more information about Porter’s long life and career will appreciate the 21-page “Chronology” placed at the end of this 1100-page book that details her ninety-year lifetime.

Porter was often a critic of her times, but she took her criticism a step or two further by her general criticism of society and even of human nature itself. She was most certainly a keen observer of people, and some of her best stories are the often deceptively simple ones that focus on the unique relationship between husbands and wives. These are largely conversational presentations that clearly illustrate just how much is left unsaid in a marriage, stories in which real feelings are shown inside the heads of her main characters but never expressed out loud in the long conversations between husband and wife. Two particularly fine examples of this type are Porter’s “Rope” and “The Cracked Looking Glass,” both of which were included in her first short story collection, Flowering Judas and Other Stories.

Porter, born in Indian Creek, Texas, near San Antonio, had the familiarity and love for Mexico shared by so many Texans. Her earliest published short stories are set during the Mexican Revolution years between 1910 and 1920, and her nonfiction pieces include more than two dozen essays on her love for that country and what she experienced there during such a dramatic period of its history. That Porter felt as much at home in Mexico as in Texas is obvious because of the depth to which she captured these times and Mexico’s people.

The last publication of Porter’s lifetime, 1977’s “The Never-Ending Wrong,” her reaction to the famous Sacco-Vanzetti case, is perhaps one of the most powerful pieces she ever wrote. Porter, who stood with hundreds of others outside the prison while the two were executed for their crime, admits that she could not determine for herself their actual guilt or innocence. But she makes a strong argument that their trial was one of those “in which the victim was already condemned to death before the trial took place.” She likens their trial to the trials of Jesus, Joan of Arc, those tried in Salem during the infamous witchcraft trials of 1692, and those condemned to death by Stalin in his 1937 Moscow show trials.

Collected Stories and Other Writings should help solidify Katherine Anne Porter’s literary reputation for generations to come, something that was becoming more and more difficult to do because so much of her work was out-of-print prior to this publication. Darlene Unrue has placed a wide range of Porter’s best work in one volume, a book that will prove to be a must-have for Porter fans and an important book for anyone who appreciates the best short fiction produced in the twentieth century.

Rated at: 5.0

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