When I took a Short Story Writing class in college, I was of the attitude that short stories were practice pieces and for beginners only. Sure we read many classic works by great authors, but those were published in the days of magazines and periodicals. Those great short stories were written in a time when people read (not watched TV) for pleasure, so short-and-sweet had its place, much like the sitcoms of today. The older I get, though, the more I’ve come to love a good short story. Ever since I read and reviewed The Nine Billion Names of God by Arthur C. Clarke, I have longed to work my way through other collections. So when I came across The Brides of Solomon and Other Stories by a favorite author, Geoffrey Household, I jumped at it.
The following are just a few notes about each story, though not a thorough review of each.
01 – “The Case of Valentin Lecormier” – Of all the stories in this volume, this one is “the most Household”, as it follows a man on the run who accidentally killed a fellow soldier. I have to admit, though, how detached I felt from this one right off the bat. When you’ve got a Briton writing about a Frenchman hiding out in Syria and Turkey, it’s really quite hard for an American to follow. This makes me question my approach in a book that I’m currently writing about the British in Asia. How in the world will my American audience feel, unless I add one of their own in the mix (as ridiculous as that might make the plot?). Perhaps this is why Tom Cruise was The Last Samurai or Matt Damon fought so valiantly on The Great Wall. This story—long, taking up a full quarter of the book—ends happily and circular, but still not my favorite.
02 – “Kindly Stranger” – “It is an odd thought—at this date unworldly rather than disturbing—that I am responsible for all the disasters of the last forty years, for 1914/18, for the Russian Revolution, for Hitler. No martian arriving from outer space could have changed the quietly running world into so devastatingly wrong and fast a gear.” (44) That’s quite an opening! What guilt this character has borne with him and for so many years for taking innocent part in the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. The story is short but historically detailed and coming from an unexpected source.
03 – “The Idealist” – This story about a WWI General, love, and respect didn’t stick with me very well.
04 – “Six Legs are Welcome” – “I knew him well enough to dislike him thoroughly. He didn’t suspect it. You can go on detesting a man for years in Spanish so long as you have good manners. That’s quite impossible in English.” (59) This unique story about a man saved by a swarm of bugs from men hunting his life evidences the strength of the short story. It allows an author to really explore the possibilities (or sometimes impossibilities) of a plot without needing to commit himself fully to it. This is why I loved Clarke’s collection so much, for he invented and explored entire universes in just a few short pages without ever needing to explain himself. What a power! I also really enjoyed this story for its wink at nature, for I’ve only recently become enamored with nature and insects (joining such groups a iNaturalist and eBird).
05 – “Roll Out the Barrel” – This story reminded me so much of an Edgar Allen Poe or an Arthur Conan Doyle story, though it’s been years since I have read either one.
06 – “The Greeks Had no Word for It” – This was Household’s most amusing tale in the collection, a fun story following a foreigner, a priceless antique, and a long night of partying.
07 – “Drug for the Major” – This story was a fairly long object lesson in leadership, that a good leader both recognizes in and provides for his staff the one thing that makes them tick and remain committed.
08 – “As Best He Can” – Set once again in a land about which I know nothing, this story offers a bit of a twist on the history of the French Resistance, though it too needs a bit of knowledge of WWII to appreciate what with Bosches and the French Resistance were all about.
09 – “Moment of Truth” – This story reveals an otherwise forgotten aspect of war and espionage (suicide) as revealed in the story of an 18-year old girl.
10 – “Salute” – Household presents a feminine story of postwar friendship from women who ought to have been mortal enemies.
11 – “Constant Love” – This one took me back to college and to my distrust of short-stories, for it’s an unsurprising and unexciting tale which Household must have written over a solo dinner in some Cafe. Not my favorite at all.
12 – “Eggs as Ain’t” – Here’s a funny tale designed to make a farmer chuckle. I’m going to send a copy to my buddy who raised chickens for a number of years.
13 – “Letter to a Sister” – This story was strange in that it’s the only one that implies anything supernatural. The ending was not terribly surprising but, the story itself was developed and sweet.
14 – “The Brides of Solomon” – The title-story of the book was literary and clear, but only to a point. I understood the idea of what was going on in this village, but Household’s conclusion was muddled and ultimately unsatisfactory.
15 – “The Eye of a Soldier” – Surprisingly pulled from an account in the Bible, this tale follows that of the Centurion about whom Christ Jesus says, “I have not found so great a faith in all of Israel.” The man’s conclusion, that he has no faith just common sense, actually implies a wonderful definition of faith (as opposed to “blind faith”)! It’s really quite doctrinal!
16 – “Children’s Crusade” – This was the most interesting story of all, and I guess my favorite. I would have titled the volume after this story. I am not aware if it’s historical, but knowing Household, I figure it’s not pulled from thin air. The return of 26 Jewish kids to the Holy land in 1919 is the makings for an epic tale that would entertain the most literary of critics.