Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: "Sugar and Spice" by Vera Caspary

"Sugar and Spice" is a short story first published in 1943; it is about 60 pages long, close to novella length. Vera Caspary, the author, was the author of Laura, a novel that I enjoyed reading. Laura was adapted to film, starring Dana Andrews as a police detective and Gene Tierney as Laura.

In "Sugar and Spice," Mike Jordan visits a friend and tells her who killed a famous actor, Gil Jones, and how. Two women, cousins and life-long rivals, are the suspects in his murder. The two women grew up in the same small town where Mike Jordan lived, and the three were in high school together. Mike tells the history of their relationship, how it changes over time, and how they mature as they marry and have careers. The two women both fall for Gil Jones, and support his acting career and eventually one of them kills him.

It is the background of their childhood and how they competed with each other over time that explains how one of the women has become capable of murder. When they were teenagers, Phyllis was beautiful, but her family was poor; Nancy was plain and overweight, but her family was wealthy and she gets everything she wants. Their grandmother is a vicious old woman who sets them against each by constantly pointing out Phyllis's beauty and superior talent.

The narrative structure of Mike Jordan telling the story to his friend while waiting for a telephone connection to New York City to talk to one of the suspects is what makes the story especially interesting.

My description does not do this story justice, but I do recommend it and also the anthology that it is in, Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, edited by Sarah Weinman. See two previous posts on this anthology at my blog, here and here.

I did notice that Weinman's introduction to Caspary's story has the details quite wrong. But no matter, I enjoyed the short story a lot and am glad it was included in the anthology.


See two other reviews of this book by John at Pretty Sinister Books and Curtis at The Passing Tramp.



12 comments:

Cath said...

That short story sounds excellent. I enjoy stories that involve some kind of family dynamic, 'explaining' if you will, why people are like they are and behave as they do. Maybe I'm a frustrated psychologist. LOL

Todd Mason said...

The anthologists' dilemma--should I have re-read all the stories I've selected before writing introductions and headnotes?

I have been meaning to pick up the Weinman for a while, and the Caspary novella sounds clever.

Margot Kinberg said...

I definitely want to read this, Tracy. I liked Laura very much, and this one sounds as though it's got a solid level of psychological suspense - always a plus for me. Plus I'd like to try Caspary's short stories. Thanks for calling this to my attention.

TracyK said...

I agree with you, Cath, I like fiction that focuses on family dynamics. In fact, the Miss Silver book by Patricia Wentworth I am reading right now is about a family feud, although that is a bit different because the two cousins don't even meet until they are in their twenties. But their lives have been shaped by what happened in their families years before. Fascinating reading.

TracyK said...

Todd, I have read about half the stories in the anthology, and I have enjoyed reading it so far. I need to finally finish reading it soon.

TracyK said...

Margot, I enjoyed Laura also, and I want to make an effort to find more of Vera Caspary's novels and short stories to read.

Sam Sattler said...

I've recently become more intrigued than ever with novels and stories written in the 1940s, and it's this kind of story that makes that decade so much fun to read from. It's fascinating to see what people were being entertained by and thinking about during the WWII years.

TracyK said...

Sam, I have been focusing on mystery novels written during the 1940s and early 1950s for the same reason. The World War II years are very interesting and also it was a very different experience in the US vs the UK and other European countries. I am reading a Miss Silver mystery by Patricia Wentworth right now. It is an early one, published in 1943, and many of the characters are either in the military or doing jobs related to the war on the home front.

Strange to remember that my father was in World War II (more in Burma and India though) and my parents met and married immediately after he returned home from the war.

Marty said...

Is that "The Chinese Shawl" you're reading? Family feuds figure in several of Wentworth's books--good set-up for murder. Stern and domineering elderly ladies are usually involved too. Wonder if Wentworth had some experience with those, or if they were just plot devices?

TracyK said...

Yes, Marty, it is The Chinese Shawl. I hope to finish the book tonight.

That is interesting. I do remember domineering elderly ladies featuring in some of the books by Wentworth that I have read. And family feuds interest me, I don't know why.

col2910 said...

Sounds like an interesting story and I think you might have featured the anthology before. Tempting, but I've more than enough.

TracyK said...

This was a very good story, Col. Yes, I have done about three posts on stories from this anthology. I hope to finish the book in the next few weeks. I still have one novella length story to read, which takes longer, and a few more stories.