Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Katherine Anne Porter

In one of those lucky moments where one's mind is unsure of what it wants but is so open to suggestions it knows it will find it, I stumbled upon a collection of short stories by American writer Katherine Anne Porter at the library.

I like short stories and I like female writers who work in that form: Lydia Davies, Loorie Moore, Alice Munroe, Tove Jansson etc. so it all felt very serendipitous. And the book was in that fantastic Penguin Classics series, with its black and white covers and great overall look that make you pass for a hipster at a local swish cafe on Saturday mornings.

Porter was born in 1890, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1965, and wrote one novel (Ship of Fools - apparently it is famous but I'd never heard of it until researching this post) and 27 stories. From the first story in this book, Maria Concepcion, I was taken. Characters were defined sharply , the sense of place and time was evoked powerfully, and the ending opened the story up completely. As I was reading it,it was like the story grew and grew , encompassing so much more.

In The Jilting of Granny Weatherall, Porter writes about the slow death of Ms Weatherall from the point of view of the dying woman (The Death of Ivan Ilyich will come to mind, obviously). We go in and out of Granny's consciousness and reality. At one point she listens to her doctor, and the next she is off on the trail of an old memory. One returns often - that of the jilting of the title. I don't think I'll give too much away by writing down the almost perfect ending:

"Granny lay curled down within herself, amazed and watchful, staring at the point of light that was herself; her body was now only a deeper mass of shadow in an endless darkness and this darkness would curl around the light and swallow it up. God, give a sign!
For the second time there was no sign. Again no bridegroom and the priest in the house. She could not remember any other sorrow because this grief wiped them all away. Oh, no, there's nothing more cruel than this - I'll never forgive it. She stretched herself with a deep breath and blew out the light."

What a description of someone's final moments! I am moved by this idea of the dying person being at the same time a spectactor ("staring at the point of light that was herself") and having some kind of decision in "blowing out the light". This is it, I am done, good night. Beautiful.

You can read more about Katherine Anne Porter on The Guardian (Brief survey of the short story) and The New Yorker.

No comments: