Updated: Mar 3
If I could give this book a hundred stars, I'd do it without a second thought. The first time I came across this book was in my school library when I was in 9th standard. The name caught my attention. My dad used to tell me about the author, and I already had two stories of his in my English syllabus.
I had the book with me for months until the librarian told me I had to return it and she couldn't extend the due date any longer.
It almost broke my heart to do it. But I was lucky. Soon enough, I found the book in a small book exhibition. That was years ago!
I recently bought another copy as the first one wasn't in good condition.
If there was anything that inspired me to write, it's this book. I guess that is the reason why I'm better at short stories than novels. Each story is crafted so beautifully, a mirror to the then society (which is relevant even today), a satirical take on the lives of rich and poor, and the underlying sadness that decorates the humor. They just take me into another world.
If as a reader I enjoyed reading the twists and descriptions of the various characters and settings, as a writer I marvel at the craftsmanship of the author. Each word has been meticulously chosen placed next to the other to get the desired result. Or perhaps he is gifted to write that way naturally without any effort.
From what I've heard about him, William Sydney Porter (O Henry was his pen name) never wrote until he was tracked down by someone from a magazine publisher to write a story immediately because the deadline was close by. To think a man of this talent lived for less than 50 years. But what a colorful, adventurous, turbulent life he led.
Back to the book, I always read and reread my favorite stories when I suffer from writer's block. It doesn't always work, but reading the book makes me feel better. Anytime I feel low, I pick up this book and read a story with a happy ending. Those are rare and tinged with subtle melancholy.
Most of my writing experiments are inspired by this book. I've even done a full month challenge of writing Found Poetry (finding a poem from a piece of writing) by picking a story for each day.
I'm going to write a little something about a few of my most favorite stories of the book.
Hearts and Crosses- A love story of a ranch owner's daughter and a horse groom. The dialogues are almost theatrical, extravagant, but the underlining emotions tug the heart's strings. The story is titled after a secret code, a cross inside a heart which the heroine used to draw when she had to meet her man.
The Third Ingredient- This is truly a bittersweet story. The lead character is a woman who just lost her job. She ends up helping two people get their happily ever after. The best part about the story is how he describes the MC. It makes us wish that her troubles miraculously vanish and she finds someone to care for her the way she cares for everyone.
The Last Leaf- Set in the autumn season, the story is about a painter who painted his masterpiece: a leaf on the wall. He does it for an ailing painter who was counting the days until her death by counting the dead leaves. She gets hope to survive while the painter succumbs to pneumonia. The truth is revealed in the author's style at the end of the story.
The Harlem Tragedy- A comedy about domestic violence. Yes, it's something people wouldn't dare to write. Two couples live in the same apartment. The wives are best friends. The husbands are a total contrast; one being a drunkard who hits his wife and pampers her with lavish gifts while the other is a sober man who doesn't believe in raising a hand against his spouse. How the women talk about the issue shows the lives of the lower middle class working families during those days. The concept of finding happiness in whatever they can is in parallel with the concept of yearning for what they don't have. The author says it all without preaching.
Springtime à la Carte- It is a sweet story with a happy ending. It begins with the MC feeling depressed. Then flows into flashback with the author saying that's not how stories are supposed to be written, and then goes back to the present. The imagery the story creates is absolutely amazing. In fact, inspired by the description of Spring, I've written around three different poems. That's the power of his words.
The Count and the Wedding Guest- The ending, you've guessed right, is a happy one. It's a satirical piece about how young girls try to find some love in their lives. The imagery is just wonderful (it might look like I'm repeating myself, but that's how he writes). There are some dramatic dialogues which he loves to add to certain stories. Somehow, the effect is always doubled when he does this.
A Ghost of a Chance- It isn't a horror story. It's a comic version of how a woman tries to impress her friends using a family ghost and invites one of the popular, but kind-hearted acquaintance to stay in the house hoping that she'd get to see the family ghost. The woman has a shy dutiful son who wants his mother happy. What follows next is something one has to read and enjoy.
The Poet and the Peasant- A hard-hitting satire about the double standards in the publishing industry where the name sells more than the quality of the work. A parallel story runs about a farmer who visits the city for the first time. Here too, the story highlights the hypocrisy where the attire of a person defines their social status and the amount of respect they would be shown.
Strictly Business- The story revolves around a theater actress and a director who agree to come together to enact a play. Both the MCs are portrayed to be careful about their finances. They live with an aim to save for the future. The plays become successful, and they continue to enact it at various locations until one day an accident on the stage occurs during the play. Our hero gets hurt. The story ends with him being told that his lead actress loves him to which he replies it's too late as they've already been married for two years as a part of the business proposal.
I know, I probably ruined the story for you. So, I'm going to end it here and hope that you will read this book.
About the Author: Srivalli Rekha is a blogger, writer, and amateur photographer. She got a degree in MBA and MA English Literature and chose to become a writer and a poet instead of a corporate professional.