Weekly Short Stories

Each week The Literary Roadhouse podcast hosts deeply read and discuss one short story.

Author Spotlight: Mary Flannery O’Connor

Between Mary Flannery O’Connor’s diagnosis with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus in 1951 and her eventual death in 1964, Flannery O’Connor wrote more than two dozen short stories and two novels. Born on March 25th, 1925, in Savannah, Georgia (USA), she died on August 3rd, 1964 (aged 39) in Milledgeville, Georgia, from complications of the disease, which had also killed her father.

After a strange episode when she was a young girl, being featured on Pathé News for having a trained chicken that could walk backwards, she graduated from Peabody Laboratory School and Georgia State College for Women with a social sciences degree. Whilst she attended GSCW, she served as editor for the college literary magazine, The Corinthian, and contributed many cartoons and written pieces including essays, fiction and occasional poems.

She won a scholarship to the State University of Iowa to study journalism, but after one term she decided that journalism wasn’t for her, and asked to be transferred to the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop to study for a masters in Creative Writing.

Her style has been described as ‘Southern Gothic’, filled with black humour and her characters are often morally flawed. Despite being a devout Catholic, her stories often feature fundamental Protestants. The writing is underpinned by her characters’ struggle with human sinfulness and a desire for divine grace. She wrote: “Grace changes us and change is painful.”

She also weaves dark humour through her stories, often based on the disparity between her characters’ limited perceptions and the awesome fate awaiting them. Another source of humour is frequently found in her portrayal of well-meaning liberals trying to cope with the rural South.

O’Connor was hard-working, spending each morning writing even as she struggled in her later years with lupus. She never married, relying for companionship on her close relationship with her mother and her vast correspondence. Writer Betty Hester received a weekly letter from O’Connor for over nine years.

For her work, she received many honours, including an O. Henry Award in 1957 and the National Book Award in 1972, and she was the first fiction writer born in the twentieth century to have her works collected and published by the Library of America.

The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World – Gabriel García Márquez – Literary Roadhouse Ep: 10

Discussion Notes: The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World

Next week’s story is Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O’Connor

This podcast is available on iTunes, Stitcher, and Spreaker. Please take a few moments to leave a review ( for Spreaker follow & heart us). Those reviews encourage us and help us be found by new listeners.

Wow, we found a Magical realism story Gerald liked! I was over the moon with excitement and the podcast doth bubble over. The messy video is on our Youtube page, and the glistening audio podcast is above. Check out the great article Kenechi wrote for the Author Spotlight on Gabriel García Márquez. You can feel the passion he has for this author and it’s a wonderful read.

Yes, we do have a rating scale based on Bradberries! For the history of this goofy system, see Anais’ post “Read Short Stories or Ray Bradbury Cries.” If you want to design a Bradberry, we’d love to see it. Anais has the urge to create a Bradberry collage… Imagine, Bradberries on your desktop! You gave last week’s story, “The Old Man at the Bridge” by Ernest Hemingway, 4 Bradberries.

On a scale of 1-6 Bradberries, how do you rate “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World“? Tell us in the comments below or via voicemail, and we will give you the final tally on the next episode.

Our Special Guest Host for next week, Jocelyn Johnson chose the next story! We’ll be reading Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O’Connor. I hope you enjoy it!

Author Spotlight: Gabriel García Márquez

Gabriel García Márquez (Ulf Andersen/Getty Images) Gabriel García Márquez (Ulf Andersen/Getty Images)

Gabriel García Márquez, who doesn’t know Gabriel García Márquez? Affectionately known as Gabo throughout South America, Márquez is widely renowned as one of the most significant authors of the 20th century.

García Márquez was a Colombian author, known for works such as One Hundred Years of Solitude, Love in the Time of Cholera and Chronicle of a Death Foretold. During a career that spanned several decades, his work earned him many accolades including the Neustadt International Prize for Literature in 1972 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982. He is considered an early pioneer of magical realism.

García Márquez was born in Aracataca, Colombia in 1927 and raised by his maternal grandparents, whose ideological and political beliefs would heavily influence his later work. One Hundred Years of Solitude was the culmination of his desire to write a novel based on his grandparents house where he grew up. He struggled with the idea of this novel initially, but once he broke through his writer’s block, he worked on the novel every day for eighteen months. Cien Años de Soledad, the novel’s Spanish title, was released in 1967 and was critically and commercially popular, with William Kennedy calling it, “the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race.” Carlos Fuentes, fellow novelist, called him the “most popular and perhaps the best Spanish writer since Cervantes.”

Some recurring themes and elements present in his work include solitude, armed conflict, and the setting of a fictional village called Macondo. Magic realism is a staple, with many of his stories featuring events that are seemingly impossible, yet often treated as mundane, commonplace and even expected by the characters within them. Between 1962 and 2004, García Márquez published many novels, short stories and short story collections. He died of pneumonia at age 87 in April 2014.

After his death, then-president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, described him as the greatest Colombian that ever lived. Such a description is typical of the respect that Márquez commanded, a result of his respectable body of work. If you haven’t read any of his work, I suggest you do so now. Seriously, stop right now and check this week’s short story “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World”. That should get you started. After that, I personally recommend One Hundred Years of Solitude, or Love in the Time of Cholera.

Kenechi

The Old Man at the Bridge – Ernest Hemingway – Literary Roadhouse Ep: 9

Discussion Notes: The Old Man at the Bridge

Next week’s story is The Most Handsome Drowned Man in the World by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

This podcast is available on iTunes, Stitcher, and Spreaker. Please take a few moments to leave a review ( for Spreaker follow & heart us). Those reviews encourage us and help us be found by new listeners.

This week’s story was divisive with both Kenechi and Gerald enjoying it a lot more than either Maya or Anais. That said, Maya was the most disappointed and the conversation was interesting, as Gerald and Anais tried to pinpoint the problem. The messy video is on our Youtube page, and the glistening audio podcast is above. Check out the great article on Ernest Hemingway Gerald wrote. It was a wonderful read and full of information I didn’t know.

Here is the video I promised on where to start with several authors, including Hemingway by Ashley Riordon.

And here are the links for Kenechi’s Hemingway pick, For Whom The Bell Tolls and for Anais’ book recommendation of Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Yes, we do have a rating scale based on Bradberries! For the history of this goofy system, see Anais’ post “Read Short Stories or Ray Bradbury Cries.” If you want to design a Bradberry, we’d love to see it. Anais has the urge to create a Bradberry collage… Imagine, Bradberries on your desktop! You gave last week’s story, “The Magic Chalk” by Kobo Abe, 5 Bradberries.

On a scale of 1-6 Bradberries, how do you rate “The Old Man at the Bridge“? Tell us in the comments below or via voicemail, and we will give you the final tally on the next episode.

Next week’s story is  by The Most Handsome Drowned Man In the World by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I hope you enjoy it!

Author Spotlight: Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway working at his book For Whom the Bell Tolls at Sun Valley, Idaho in December 1939 Ernest Hemingway working at his book For Whom the Bell Tolls at Sun Valley, Idaho in December 1939

Ernest Miller Hemingway was born on July 21st 1899, to Grace Hall-Hemingway, a musician, and Clarence Edmonds Hemingway, a physician.

In his  early years, he developed a taste for outdoor adventure in the family’s summer home on Walloon Lake in Michigan, which would come to influence his writing.

On leaving high school in 1917, he joined the Kansas City Star as a cub reporter, and he later took their style guide to heart for his fiction writing: “Use short sentences. Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English. Be positive, not negative.”

Early in 1918, he volunteered to help the war effort in Europe, signing on to be an ambulance driver in Italy. Those familiar with Hemingway’s work will know that an experience in Italy was described later in a non-fiction book, Death in the Afternoon.

His gallantry in assisting Italian soldiers won him the Italian Silver Medal for Bravery, but a bad injury resulting from mortar fire took him off the battlefield. Whilst recuperating, he fell in love with a Red Cross nurse, but she left him for an Italian officer. This experience affected his relationships thereon after, and he abandoned wives before they could abandon him.

After returning from Europe, he became staff writer and foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star Weekly in 1919. In September 1921 he married his first wife, Hadley Richardson,  and two months later, the couple moved to Paris with Hemingway working for the Toronto Star as their foreign correspondent. It was this period that inspired the fictional account of their lives in Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife. Hemingway’s first book, an anthology of short stories and poems called, to-the-point true to Hemingway fashion, Three Stories and Ten Poems, was published in 1923. It was quickly followed by In Our Time, another collection of vignettes and stories.

He also worked on The Transatlantic Review with Ford Madox Ford, which featured some of his short stories. Around this time, he began to earn the praise of critics, who credited him for reinvigorating the short story genre.

Hemingway began work on his first novel on his birthday, 21st of July, 1925. In October 1926, The Sun Also Rises was published.

There followed a glittering career as a writer, including such major works as A Farewell To Arms, To Have and Have Not, For Whom The Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea, and many of his novels, short stories and non-fiction works have been made into major films. The Old Man and the Sea, which was published in 1951 after Across the River and Into the Trees garnered bad reviews, won him a Pulitzer Prize the following year. In 1954 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature.

During his life, Hemingway travelled extensively, covering the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s as a correspondent for the North American Newspaper Alliance. During the Second World War, he covered the hostilities for Collier’s Magazine, and was present at the Normandy Landings, and at the liberation of Paris in August 1945. He was awarded a Bronze Star for bravery in WWII by the United States Military, having been “under fire in combat areas in order to obtain an accurate picture of conditions”.

But not everything in Hemingway’s life was positive. His father committed suicide in the winter of 1928, just minutes before a letter had arrived from Ernest telling him to not worry about money troubles. He commented, “I’ll probably go the same way.” During his life, he was beset by injuries from accidents and war coverage. Apart from the injury sustained in Italy in 1918, he was concussed in London in a car accident; another car accident in 1945 smashed his knee and caused a deep forehead wound; in 1944 in Africa, he nearly died after being involved in two successive plane crashes; and in 1955 on a fishing expedition in Africa, a bush fire caused him second degree burns. In Venice in 1955 his fourth wife, Mary, reported his injuries consisted of two cracked discs, a kidney and liver rupture, a dislocated shoulder and a broken skull.

When he was in Paris, he became friends with Irish writer James Joyce, and spent many evenings in heavy drinking sessions. His obsession with drink stayed with him. The uncle of his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, bought the couple a house in Key West. It is said the location, opposite the lighthouse, made it easy for Hemingway to find it on his way home from drinking sessions at a local bar, Sloppy Joe’s.

He suffered from severe headaches, high blood pressure, weight problems, and diabetes. His drinking increased partly to mask the pain from his injuries. He began to sink into depression as, one after another, his great literary friends began to die.

In his final years, his mental state deteriorated, and he became confused, disorganised and irritable. His brother and his sister, as well as his father, all committed suicide. On July 2nd, 1961, Hemingway unlocked the basement storeroom in his house in Idaho, removed his favourite Boss shotgun, pushed two shells into it, put the end of the barrel in his mouth, and pulled the trigger. His complicated history as war hero, writer, womanizer and alcoholic, polarized is reception. To some he was an inscrutable enigma, to others a hero, and to others still a villain.

Regardless of one’s opinion on his character, he is sparse writing irrefutably changed the world of literature.  Hemingway referred to his style as the Iceberg Theory: the facts float above the water, the supporting structure and symbolism operate out of sight. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the short novel The Old Man and The Sea, where the simple tale of an old fisherman parallels on many levels with religious texts.

This week we’ll be discussing “The Old Man at the Bridge”.

The Magic Chalk – Kobo Abe – Literary Roadhouse Ep: 8

Discussion Notes: The Magic Chalk

Next Week’s Story is The Old

Man at the Bridge By Ernest Hemingway.

This podcast is available on iTunes, Stitcher, and Spreaker. Please take a few moments to leave a review ( For Spreaker follow/heart us). It helps us immensely.

This week’s story was an interesting one that prompted discussion on the difference between magical realism and fantasy, and why a reader might like one and not the other. When Anais made a point about fantasy having rules within the world and magical realism breaking rules all my brain tingles went on high alert. Great conversation, interesting story and deeply varying experiences as readers. The messy video is on our Youtube page, and the glistening audio podcast is above. Anais also wrote an excellent post on Kobo Abe that included an enlightening interview with a PhD student of Japanese Literature.

Our rating scale just got a lot more epic. Listener, Todd Williams, sent us a lovely email with a bradberry designed just for us! Thank you Tom, we love it. For the history of this goofy system, see Anais’ post “Read Short Stories or Ray Bradbury Cries.” If you want to design a bradberry, Anais has the sudden urge to create a bradberry collage… Imagine, bradberries on your desktop! You gave last week’s story, “The Laughing Man” by J.D Salinger, 4.5 Bradberries.

On a scale of 1-6 Bradberries, how do you rate “The Magic Chalk“? Tell us in the comments below or via voicemail, and we will give you the final tally on the next episode.

After Anais’ quiz, we selected “The Old Man at the Bridge” by Ernest Hemingway as next week’s story. I hope you enjoy it, I’m sure Gerald will.

Author Spotlight: Kobo Abe

Abe Kobo was born Abe Kimifusa in Tokyo in 1924. (Kobo is the Chinese reading of his given name.) His father was a doctor and taught medicine at a local college. As a small boy, his family moved to Mukden, Manchuria, home of the Manchurian Incident of 1931 in which the Japanese military staged an assault on Japanese railway tracks, and blamed the Chinese as a pretext for invasion. From 1931 to 1945, the Japanese ruled Manchuria as its puppet state under a brutal regime which terrorized local Russian and Chinese populations. From this distant and grim view of his native Japan, Abe grew critical of modern culture.

He returned to Japan in 1941, and enrolled at Tokyo Imperial University in 1943 to pursue medicine. However, his passion for writing, and indifference to medicine prevented a career as a doctor. He graduated in 1948 with a medical degree under the condition that he would never practice, an arrangement which allowed him to save face.

He was first published as a poet in 1947, and then as a novelist in 1948 for The Road Sign at the End of the Street. Though the first novel established his reputation in literary and avant-garde circles, he did not receive widespread, international acclaim until his 1962 novel The Woman in the Dunes.

For more information on Abe, I turned to Rachel Stewart who earned an M.A. in English Criticism and Theory from the University of Exeter. Her thesis titled The Nature of Worlding in Contemporary Japanese Literature will be published in the journal Literature Compass. (Full disclosure: Rachel Stewart is my lovely, delightful, sharply intelligent sister-in-law.)

Anais: On next week’s podcast we’re reading “The Magic Chalk” by Abe Kobo. I know you’ve studied much of his work, and Japanese fiction in general. What can you tell me about Abe as a writer, philosopher, and artist?

Rachel: How fantastic that you are delving into Abe Kobo. He is one of Japan’s better known authors, but his work still deserves a wider readership. He is essentially an absurdist who is often sold to the West as Japan’s Kafka, and that is on many levels true in the sense that he ridicules modernity, but I think he is less humorous than Kafka. From a literary history perspective that so often aims to categorise writers by nationality, he is an interesting case because he was brought up in Manchuria and that has led critics to claim he was better able to criticise modern Japanese culture.

Kobo was very much influenced by Western authors who were beginning to be translated and published in literary magazines at the time, perhaps most significantly Sartre. Kobo was largely concerned with the evolution of humans, which was no doubt influenced by his war experience. I think it’s important to remember when reading Kobo that the Western reader at the time would have had a typically exoticised view of Japan, which is to say cherry blossoms and geishas. His writing certainty helped to raise the status of Japanese literature.  His focus on figures who are marked by the notion of flight, markedly the nomad, deserter, Jew, and gypsy, brings attention to the individual within the state; the concept of which was a contentious topic at the time in Japan, and in many ways remains so.

For a complete contrast I would recommend a ‘High Literature’ author like Kawabata Yasunari or Yukio Mishima, both of whom were very right-wing in contrast to Kobo.

Anais: Could you talk a little more about the difference between Abe and the high literature, right-wing authors like Kawabata and Mishima? What are the main differences?

Rachel: Authors like Mishima and Kawabata were very much concerned with how Japan was perceived by the wider world. Yukio actually committed the most traditional suicide harikiri (seppuku) over the state of Japan’s political future amongst other things. They wrote about huge topics like death and impossibility – Kawabata’s House of Sleeping Beauties is a brilliant example – while Kobo was more concerned with the state of human nature in the postwar years. History plays an important role here as the upbringing of each author varies considerably as does the political atmosphere that they each grew up in. Put simply, Kobo commented on human evolution (or devolution) and society, whilst others are known to have fought against the changes that postwar politics brought to traditional Japanese culture.

Anais: How did ‘high literature’ authors like Mishima and Kawabata receive Abe?

Rachel: As far as I know, Kobo was well received in Japan, even by the very established authors we’re talking about alongside him. The interesting thing about Kobo is that for those who love him he is Japanese, but for those who don’t he is not Japanese, because of his upbringing in Manchuria.

Anais: What exactly is the distinction between ‘high literature’ and ‘low literature’?

Rachel: They’re Japanese terms used in elite Japanese circles, and only really discussed by big name scholars. It’s really a huge area that has a great deal to do with early postwar politics and literary history.  It’s especially difficult to talk about from a Western view point, because it is too closely tied to questions of evolving cultural identity, you see. These days the distinction has become fairly subjective, and it’s a topic that is quite difficult to be politically correct about. Generally, low literature means writing that is not quintessentially Japanese, for example, works that include English words and references to Western pop culture. Murakami Haruki and Yoshimoto Banana are classed as low, while a modern high writer might be someone like Murakami Ryu.

Anais: You said that in some ways the comparison to Kafka is accurate. In which ways is it not?

Rachel: I think there is a more tangible element to Kobo than there is to Kafka. Kafka is more allegorical, while Kobo is at times more of a magical realist. Amazingly they both succeed in having their characters turn into inanimate objects or animals in a way that comments on social issues. The biggest difference for me is that Kobo is more concerned with the individual in modern society (bearing in mind that individualism can be a contested topic in a very group-centered culture like Japan), while Kafka is more concerned with ridiculing society as a whole.

***

Abe also had a passion for film and theater, writing screenplays and plays for the stage as well. He collaborated with Japanese director Teshigahara Hiroshi on the film adaptations of his novels The Woman in the Dunes, The Face of Another, and The Ruined Map. They also collaborated on The Pitfall, which is a film adaption of a TV series. The screenplay was also written by Abe.

Abe founded a theater company in the 1970’s and put on productions in Tokyo, Washington and New York in collaboration with his wife, Machi, who survived him along with their daughter, Neri, after his sudden heart failure in 1993. He was 68 (Click here for fascinating NY Time obituary).

All Japanese names in this article are listed in the Japanese convention of surname before given name.

The Laughing Man – J.D. Salinger – Literary Roadhouse Ep: 7

Discussion Notes: The Laughing Man

We selected “The Magic Chalk ” by Kobo Abe for next week’s story.

This podcast is available on iTunes, Stitcher and various podcatchers. If you can take a few moments to leave an iTunes and/or Stitcher review, it would help us immensely.

Oh J.D. Salinger, you made us scratch our heads. Today we sort out how a story with such great language and well drawn characters left us the minute we finished reading it. It was interesting listening to each of us come to different conclusions on the theme and meaning of The Laughing Man. We also broached the question, ‘is the podcast or the fact that we’re writers affecting how we read?’ The messy podcast is on the Youtube page, and the glistening audio version will be available Wednesday morning. Don’t forget to check out our Author’s Spotlight on J.D. Salinger to learn more about the author.

We do have a rating scale. For the history of this goofy system, see Anais’ post “Read Short Stories or Ray Bradbury Cries.” You gave last week’s story, “The Hasselblad” by Jocelyn Johnson, 3 Bradberries.

On a scale of 1-6 Bradberries, how do you rate “The Laughing Man“? Tell us in the comments below or via voicemail, and we will give you the final tally on the next episode.

After Kenechi’s horrible no good very bad quiz, we selected “The Magic Chalk ” by Kobo Abe for next week’s story. Anais was especially excited to read this story as Wikipedia described the author as a surreal nightmarish Kafka… I think perhaps this tells us too much about Anais.

Author Spotlight: J. D. Salinger

J. D, Salinger in 1953. (Photo by Rex Features, found on telegraph.co.uk) J. D, Salinger in 1953. (Photo by Rex Features, found on telegraph.co.uk)

Jerome David Salinger, also known as JD Salinger, was born to wealthy parents in New York City in 1919. He discovered a love and talent for writing early, and began writing short stories while in secondary school. He continued writing and had many short stories published before he went to Europe and served in World War II. Upon his return, his short story “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”, published in 1948, received critical acclaim. The Catcher in the Rye, his only full length novel and the work for which he is best known, was published in 1951 and was met with immediate success and critical acclaim. Being a private person, he struggled with the fame that this work brought him for the rest of his life. After the release of The Catcher in the Rye, he became reclusive and published work less frequently. In 1953, however he published Nine Stories, a collection of short stories that includes “The Laughing Man”, our story up for discussion this week.

Salinger often wrote about youth; he himself has been quoted as saying; I almost always write about very young people. His writing is renowned for its  realistic and sparse dialogue, and often deals with innocence and adolescence, the disconnect between genuine children and phoney adults, and the corrupting influence of Hollywood and the world at large.

Salingers body of work has influenced many prominent writers including Pulitzer Prize winners John Updike and Philip Roth.

Salinger died of natural causes in 2010. He left behind several unpublished works that according to a biographer are scheduled to be released on a set timetable from 2015-2020.

Kenechi

Editors note: This article only begins to touch on the interesting subject of JD Salinger. From banned books and murderers to teenaged lovers, I recommend both the following film and the Documentary Salinger available on Netflix.

The Hasselblad – Jocelyn Johnson – Literary Roadhouse Ep: 6

Discussion Notes: The Hasselblad

Next week’s story is The Laughing Man  by J.D. Salinger.

This podcast is available on iTunes, Stitcher and various podcatchers. If you can take a few moments to leave an iTunes and/or Stitcher review, it would help us immensely.

On today’s episode,  we try to sort what it was we loved about this week’s story, and what gave each of us pause… well, with the exception of Kenechi since he’s, well— Kenechi. The interesting thing was how Anais, Gerald and Maya all had a similar feeling, but for different reasons. Listening to why Kenechi enjoyed the story more fully was enlightening to both the story and our differences as readers. The messy podcast is on the Youtube page, and the glistening audio version will be available by morning. Don’t forget to check out Jocelyn Johnson’s Author Spotlight to learn more about her.

We do have a rating scale. For the history of this goofy system, see Anais’s post “Read Short Stories or Ray Bradbury Cries.” You gave last week’s story, “Amundsen” by Alice Munro, 4 Bradberries.

On a scale of 1-6 Bradberries, how do you rate “The Hasselblad“? Tell us in the comments below or via voicemail, and we will give you the final tally on the next episode.

Next week’s story is The Laughing Man  by J.D. Salinger. The story is also available as a, much easier to read, pdf starting on page 25.