Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Short Story Wednesday — Doctorow: Collected Stories


My husband purchased Doctorow: Collected Stories at the 2023 Planned Parenthood Book Sale, and at his suggestion, I read some short stories from that collection, which is comprised of fifteen short stories written by E. L. Doctorow. Per the dust jacket, the stories were "selected, revised, and placed in order by the author himself shortly before he died in 2015."

I read the first five stories in the book, plus a later story I was especially interested in. Of the six stories I read, I only really liked two of the stories, but I liked those a lot, so it was a worthwhile experience.

These are the first five stories:

  • "Willi"
  • "The Hunter"
  • "The Writer in the Family"
  • "Heist"
  • "The Water Works"

I did not care for "Willi" at all. I found these stories confusing: "The Hunter," "Heist," and "The Water Works." From what I have read, "Heist" was expanded to be the novel City of God.

"The Writer in the Family" was my favorite of the first five stories I read. It tells about a man who dies and how his death affects his family. The man's sisters don't want to tell his 90-year-old mother about his death, so they tell her that he has moved to Arizona. They request that his wife and two sons join in this deception. One of the sons is asked to write letters to his grandmother as if they are from his father. Not only is it a very moving story, it gets a lot across in 15 pages.

The other story I read was "Wakefield," which was first published in The New Yorker, January 7, 2008. It was one of the longer stories in the book at about 35 pages. In 2016, the story was adapted to film, starring Bryan Cranston and Jennifer Garner.

The story is about a man, Howard Wakefield, who leaves his wife and family, in a manner of speaking. I am not even going to try to summarize the story any further than that. I wanted a more definitive ending but it was still an effective ending. I liked this story very much.

Here are the first few sentences of the story:

People will say that I left my wife and I suppose, as a factual matter, I did, but where was the intentionality? I had no thought of deserting her. It was a series of odd circumstances that put me in the garage attic with all the junk furniture and the raccoon droppings—which is how I began to leave her, all unknowing, of course—whereas I could have walked in the door as I had done every evening after work in the fourteen years and two children of our marriage. Diana would think of her last sight of me, that same morning, when she pulled up to the station and slammed on the brakes, and I got out of the car and, before closing the door, leaned in with a cryptic smile to say goodbye—she would think that I had left her from that moment.

"Wakefield" is available online at The New Yorker


Jerry House said...

"Wakefield" sounds like it may be a riff on Nathaniel Hawthorne's famous short story of the same name, a story so simple and nuanced it could easily have been a full-length novel.

Margot Kinberg said...

Sounds like a bit of a mixed bag then, Tracy. It's interesting how we like one story a lot, but dislike others that are written by the same author. I wonder if it's experimentation with different writing styles? In any case, I'm glad you liked a couple of the stories.

TracyK said...

That is very interesting, Jerry. I bought that short story by Hawthorne in eBook edition and I will try it out.

TracyK said...

Margot, the stories I have read so far are a mixed bag. And some of the reviews I read of this book did mention that E. L. Doctorow seemed to use short stories to experiment.

Kathy's Corner said...

Hi Tracy, Many years ago I read The Book of Daniel by E L Doctow. I highly recommend it. It's a fictionalized novel about the Rosenberg case and it has stayed with me.

Sam said...

I haven't read many short stories by Doctorow, but I'm a fan of his novels. It's been a while since I've read one, but I remember liking Loon Lake, World's Fair, Lives of the Poets, and Billy Bathgate a lot. I love the premise of "The Writer in the Family." That sounds just like a situation someone could rather innocently get themselves into only to have the old woman live past 100 years old. ha

TracyK said...

Sam, I will look into those books that you enjoyed. I have heard of Billy Bathgate but not the others.

I kept wondering where "The Writer in the Family" was going. I enjoy stories about family dynamics, even though they can be depressing.

TracyK said...

Kathy, thanks for that suggestion. I do want to try a novel by E.L. Doctorow and had no idea where to start. I think I may have read Ragtime decades ago.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I don't think I have read any of his short stories but I will read this one-although 35 pages to me is just about a novella.

TracyK said...

I prefer short stories between 15 - 20 pages, Patti, although it makes a difference depending on page and print size. I could not decide if this fit novelette or novella length or not. It seems that many short story books I read have a mix of shorter and several much longer stories.

Regardless, Wakefield was a good read.

FictionFan said...

You've reminded me that I have this collection on Kindle. I started it but never finished, which suggests I struggled with it although I don't remember anything about the stories I read now. I'll try Wakefield...

TracyK said...

I do recommend Wakefield, FictionFan. I will be trying more of the stories because I liked Wakefield so much.

And I am a big fan of short books on Kindle.