Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: "Sweet Baby Jenny" by Joyce Harrington



In A Moment on the Edge, Elizabeth George collects 26 crime fiction stories over the past 100 years, all written by women. This week I decided to feature a story from that anthology, "Sweet Baby Jenny" by Joyce Harrington.

This is the story of a young woman, born on a farm, and still living there; she is the youngest of six children, with five older brothers. Her mother died shortly after her birth and no one has told her much about her mother or how she died. Her father, who she remembers vaguely, disappeared several years after that. 

Jenny wants to get out of the life she is stuck in but she feels like she has to take care of her older brothers. Most of them make some money for the family, but not much. Only the youngest brother, Pembroke, is getting an education and he encourages Jenny to do the same. 

She knows her mother once worked as a maid for a family in town named the Carpenters; the father is the town's one and only bank president. So she decides to work for them to make some money. She gets the job easily; she is a good cook and is not afraid of work. As a result of that, she learns much more about what happened to her mother and her father.

The story is told in first person by Jenny, in a rural dialect. I found it very easy to read and understand. The story is about a serious subject, but it has humor to give it balance. The ending was fantastic, I always like a good ending. It was clever, and not predictable at all. 


This story was first published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, May 1981. I have read one other story by Joyce Harrington, "The Purple Shroud," in Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, edited by Sarah Weinman.




10 comments:

George said...

I've been a fan of Elizabeth George and her work for years. I've seen this anthology and now that you've reviewed a couple of stories from it, I'll have to find a copy. I think I've read some of the stories when they were first published in magazines.

Margot Kinberg said...

This does sound like a great story, Tracy. I respect an author who can write an unexpected, but credible, ending to a story. And that sounds like an effective context and setting for the story, too.

TracyK said...

I really liked this story, Margot. It made a point but it had humor too.

TracyK said...

George, I like that this anthology has stories throughout the decade, although there are more from the 70s, 80s, and 90s. A good number of the stories in this book were first published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine or Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. I still have a good number of stories to read in this book.

Sam Sattler said...

I'm not familiar with Joyce Harrington at all but it sounds as if she tells a good story. I do trust Elizabeth George to pick out good stories for anything she attaches her name to, however, so I know I shouldn't be surprised that this story sounds so good.

pattinase (abbott) said...

This looks like a great anthology that I have never heard mentioned before. ALways have enjoyed Elizabeth George novels.

TracyK said...

Sam, Joyce Harrington was new to me until I read the story in Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives. I would like to try one of her novels based on the introductions in the anthologies, but I haven't looked for any of them yet.

TracyK said...

Patti, this anthology is very good, or at least the stories that I have read so far, about half of them.

I enjoyed Elizabeth George's novels until they got longer and longer. I read through Careless in Red, the 15th book in the Lynley series.

Todd Mason said...

Harrington, as you've probably found out, was a pretty regular contributor to EQMM in the '70s and probably into the '80s, when my reading of the magazine grew more spotty. I've always like her work, and, as with any number of writers whose work I read at least a few times Back When, I'm a bit startled to realize she can have become rather obscure now.

Hence FFB and SSW and similar projects!

TracyK said...

Todd, it is amazing that Harrington is not better known, but unfortunately that has happened to a lot of good writers. I may have to go looking for some old EQMM copies for the 70s and 90s.