Sunday, June 1, 2008

Pam Durban's Short Story "Soon"

I've recently picked up the anthology "Best American Short Stories of the Century" edited by John Updike. I've been mostly disappointed and finding myself skimming through sprawling New Yorker drivel in search of the good stuff. So far, Ernest Hemingway's "The Killers" has once again captured my attention. And then there's Pam Durban's "Soon," an unfamiliar work that is a delightful diamond in the rough. Aside from what seem a few unnecessary sentences here and there and a sometimes distracting predilection for parentheses, Durban puts me to shame. The first paragraph of "Soon" almost manages to do everything I was trying to achieve with my entire short story "The Last Easy Summer."

Martha's mother, Elizabeth Long Crawford, had been born with a lazy eye, and one morning when she was twelve her father and the doctor sat her down in the dining room at Marlcrest, the Longs' place near Augusta, Georgia, and told her they were going to fix her so that a man would want to marry her someday. Her father held her on his lap while the doctor pressed a handkerchief soaked with chloroform over her nose and mouth, and she went under, dreaming of the beauty she would be. But the doctor's hand slipped, and when Elizabeth came to, she was blind in her right eye. For the rest of her life what she remembered of that morning were the last sights she'd seen through two eyes: the shadows of the leaves on the sunny floor, the hair on the backs of her father's hands, the stripe on the doctor's trousers, the handkerchief coming down. Then blindness. The rise and the downfall of hope, one complete revolution of the wheel that turned the world, that's what she'd lived through.


SuiginChou said...

That's pretty horrible. (Not the writing, but the event.)

Question: why the gripping tale of Martha's mother? I take it Martha is the main character and her mother isn't (else she wouldn't be relegated to "Martha's mother"). Sort of odd when you think about it. I'd have written the story about Martha's mother at this point -- why the switch?

Anonymous said...

Good Question.

Terry Finley

Jay said...

The story follows 3 generations of women from the Long family (pretty ambitious for a short story, eh?). Also, Martha's remembrance of her mother kind of haunts her like a ghost, subtly affecting her even in death.

Jennifer said...

What do you mean by affecting her even in death? I read the story and I really enjoyed it. There is still some things I am unclear on though. But it was easy for me to relate to.