Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Friday, June 24, 2011

Three Surprise Ending Short Stories-American, English and French

"Two Thanksgiving Day Gentleman" by O. Henry (1905, 6 pages)
"Cousin Theresa" by Saki (1908,  5 pages)
"The Adopted Son" by Guy de Maupassant (1881, 4 pages)

Ocean Hopping with Three Surprise
Ending Short Stories

Magazine editors have had a lot to do with the way the short story has developed.   During my reading project on short stories of the Australian Bush (Outback Tales from 1870 to 1920 or so) I found the Australian short story first began to blossom when a nationwide weekly publication, The  Bulletin,  began to  publish short works of fiction about "real life" in the Australian outback.   The stories had to be of a certain length and style to be accepted.    During Irish Short Story Week I became aware of how important The New Yorker has been for sustaining the quality of the Irish Short Story.    The standards of the magazine were high and so was the pay.

In India, The Hindu published many of the short stories of R. K. Narayan and others.    They imposed length requirements on their writers and catered to readers whose first language was not English.    Magazine editors liked surprise ending short stories or for sure they thought that is what magazine buyers wanted.   The modern short story almost began to develop in revolt against the surprise ending short story.    This morning I want to spot light three surprise ending short stories by three very famous short story writers.

"Two Thanksgiving Gentlemen" by O. Henry (1862 to 1910-USA) is a classic surprise ending short story.   (There is some background information on O. Henry in my prior posts on him.)   Almost the whole point of the story is building up to the surprise ending.   I sort of saw it coming but not totally.   The story opens on the very American holiday of Thanksgiving.    The central character of the story is a homeless man.    We never learn how he wound up homeless.    For the last nine years a man  has found him on his park bench on Thanksgiving day and taken him out to an elegant Thanksgiving Day lunch (it is a big feasting day).    O. Henry does a great job of bringing the mysterious benefactor to life.   We learn this annual gift of a lunch is the biggest thing in his life.     Maybe the surprise ending is very sentimental and half predictable but the story is worth reading for the people it creates.   O. Henry some times seems like he is just going through the motions of pleasing his editors but there are moments of real brilliance in his work.

All of O.  Henry is in the public  domain.    I read this story HERE.   You can find nearly all his stories online.

"The Adopted Son" by Guy de Maupassant (1850 to 1893-France-he  wrote about 300 short stories) is a classic surprise ending, tear the rug out from under you short story.     Maupassant is often listed as the world's second best short story writers, right behind Anton Chekhov.   (There is some background information on him in my prior posts on him.)      Maupassant supported an expensive life style through the sales of short stories and novellas.     He wrote to please the public and magazine editors.   A number of his short stories (I have read 14 of them since I began my blog  on July 7, 2009) do seem like they were written by a formula and rely on melodrama and the evoking of feelings of guilt for their power.   A lot of them are surprise ending short stories.   At his best he a great master of the genre.   As the story opens we meet two poor country families who had sons about the same time.
Both families struggle to survive.   One day a wealthy woman passes in her carriage and the lives of one of the families is changed forever while the second family endures on in resentment of their luckier neighbors.    There is sentimentality about the poor in France in Maupassant for sure.   At the ending of the story a terrible surprise is brought down on one of the families but I did not really see it coming.   This is a decent story and though not a work of genius.

You can read "The Adopted Son" HERE

"Cousin Theresa" by Saki (Henry Munro-1870 to 1916-UK)  is very much a typical Saki surprise ending short story.   (There is background information on Saki in my prior posts on him.)     Saki's stories are normally gentle social satires on the foibles of the upper and middle classes in Edwardian England.   Nobody is poor in his stories, unlike those of  O. Henry and de Maupassant.    There is no playing on guilt and little real characterization.    The pleasure of his stories, which is very genuine, is in his elegant prose and the kind of "super smart child" feel that his stories seem to have.     His stories are fun.   Some will find the prose too mannered.    Some will lollipop there way to the end of a Saki story to see what the surprise ending will be.    "Cousin Theresa" is a pretty self indulgent story.     It is about a father and his two sons.    One of the sons has just returned from a long posting at some remote place in the British Empire.  The son had some sort of big accomplishments or other.    His other son seems to be a lay about who devotes all his time to scribbling out plays.   The father tells himself, "OK one of my sons may be wasting his life but at least the other will bring the family fame through his governmental service."     The slacker son's play "Cousin Theresa" gets preformed on the stage in front of the Royal family.   I bet you can probably see the ending coming now.   "Cousin Theresa" exists pretty much just for the surprise ending.   It takes only a moment or two to read it and it will make you smile (and feel smart if you see the ending coming).

You can read "Cousin Theresa" HERE.

What are your feeling about "surprise ending" short stories?

Mel u

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