Book Meme: ‘Psichore’s Day Seven

The Book Meme Challenge: Most underrated book

As David has seen fit to “refuse [the] ludicrous memetic dogma” of the Meme Challenge, so do I modify Meme Topic #7 to “Most underrated author,” for it seems to me that one of the most underrated authors I can think of is Mr. William Sydney Porter, better known as O. Henry.

O. Henry wrote all manner of short stories (which few people, in my estimation, regard quite as highly as The Novel, although the Hugo and Nebula folk *are* careful to distinguish tales by length, and acknowledge good stories of each and any size), the best known of which is probably “The Gift of the Magi.”  The fact that this story has been anthologized with other “tear-jerkers” (as my father termed them, given the effect they have on my mother and me) tends to work to its disadvantage; those who recall it from such collections may recall it as maudlin or have other negative associations.

But O. Henry’s stories are not mere tear-jerkers, nor simply surprising endings.  He works with an expansive vocabulary, and his stories are a brilliant mix of two-dollar and twenty-dollar words.  With carefully wielded diction he paints a character in a very few strokes, like the ancient calligraphers of the East.  He employs dialects as ably as Twain, and his stories explore all manner of people in each station of life.  Here’s a bit from “The Enchanted Kiss”:

               A saloon was near by, and to this he flitted, calling for absinthe– beyond doubt the drink most adequate to his mood–the tipple of the roué, the abandoned, the vainly sighing lover.
               Once he drank of it, and again, and then again until he felt a strange, exalted sense of non-participation in worldly affairs pervade him. Tansey was no drinker; his consumption of three absinthe anisettes within almost as few minutes proclaimed his unproficiency in the art; Tansey was merely flooding with unproven liquor his sorrows; which record and tradition alleged to be drownable.
               Coming out upon the sidewalk, he snapped his fingers defiantly in the direction of the Peek homestead, turned the other way, and voyaged, Columbus-like into the wilds of an enchanted street. Nor is the figure exorbitant, for, beyond his store the foot of Tansey had scarcely been set for years–store and boarding-house; between these ports he was charted to run, and contrary currents had rarely deflected his prow.

For anyone eager to read beyond “The Gift of the Magi,” look for the men of “The Social Triangle;” Nevada of “Schools and Schools;” the conscientious thief of “Shearing the Wolf;” “The Lonesome Road,” which is the funniest commentary on matrimony I’ve read in awhile; or the tale of “The Cop and the Anthem,” which has a certain poignancy and piquancy about it.   It may not take as long to read as a novel, but I doubt you’ll find that a strike against it.


2 thoughts on “Book Meme: ‘Psichore’s Day Seven

  1. Awesome! I had never thought of O.Henry as being underrated, perhaps because of his constant presence in mu parent’s house. Dad used to read aloud from O. Henry’s Collected Works, and all ages were delighted!

  2. “two-dollar and twenty-dollar words…” Nice phrase! I may borrow it sometime. +)

    Ooh, great choice. The Gift of the Magi was one of the few stories from school that I loved, and it sounds like O. Henry is an author I shall have to investigate more.

    Day 7 is proving a very difficult choice for me, such that I may have to modify it once again…

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