Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Four Million: Review

I've mentioned a few times here on the blog and elsewhere that I'm not really an Americanist. I consider myself a Brit Lit girl and my reading lists and tastes generally give proof of that.  But...I love O. Henry.  I've loved him since reading "The Gift of the Magi" in high school.  I just finished up his short story collection The Four Million and Other Stories and I still love him.  He has such a spare style--and yet he says absolutely everything he needs to say and even manages throw in a lovely little twist at the end of each one.  He is witty and uses puns and other wordplay in his stories.  And all in about 10 pages (or less).  He packs more human interest into his short stories than my last read did into 450 pages.  I'll try to give you a run-down of the 29 stories, but they're so short, it will be difficult to do without giving them away.

"Tobin's Palm": Poor Tobin is down-on-his luck.  His girl was supposed to arrive in America and she's nowhere to be found.  He and his go to Coney Island to cheer themselves up--but he gets in a fight and loses his money.  He pins all his hopes on the predictions of a fortune-teller who tells him good luck will come from a man with a crooked nose....

"The Gift of the Magi": Probably Henry's most celebrated story...about a poor couple who gives everything they can to make their partner's Christmas as special as possible.

"A Cosmopolite in a Cafe":The narrator thinks he's met a true child of the world.  Is he right?

"Between Rounds": Mr. & Mrs. McCaskey are fighting it out with the crockery....when an unexpected bell rings to end the round.  But is it the end of the bout?

"The Skylight Room": A young woman gets pleasure from her skylight view....and little else.

"A Service of Love": "When one loves one's Art no service seems too hard."

"The Coming-out of Maggie":  Some girls will go to any lengths to get a date....

"Man About Town": A man goes looking for the "man about town" and discovers that he's closer then he thinks.

"The Cop & the Anthem": All good things come to those who wait....but sometimes after they're no longer wanted.

"An Adjustment of Nature":  Sometimes nature needs a little help in adjusting...

"Memories of a Yellow Dog": When a dog's life isn't all it's cracked up to be...

"The Love-Philtre of Ikey Schoenstein": "Love" potions don't always work the way we plan.

"Mammon & the Archer": A millionaire teaches cupid a trick or two.

"Springtime a la Carte": Love is on the menu.

"The Green Door": Does the green door lead to adventure or romance....or neither?

"From the Cabby's Seat": Should the bride have to pay for her ride?

"An Unfinished Story": Dulcie turns down what seems to be the date of a lifetime.

"The Caliph, Cupid, & the Clock": The "Prince" of the park saves a romance.

"Sisters of the Golden Circle": About a unique bridal gift.

"The Romance of a Busy Broker": Just how busy can the broker be....especially when it comes to his own wedding?

"After Twenty Year": It pays to remember what old pals look like....

"Lost on Dress Parade": Cupid's arrow just misses the target.

"By Courier": A street-wise young man helps the course of "true love."  My favorite!  Love how the boy translates the pretty, high-falutin' speeches of the couple.

"The Furnished Room": This is the saddest of the stories.  I don't see how I can even give you a one-liner without telling you what it's about.  You'll just have to read it for yourself. Very well done.

"The Brief Debut of Tildy": A waitress overshadowed by her beautiful friend has her moment in the sun.

*"The Lotus & the Bottle"
*"The Admiral"

*The last four stories are from the previous collection Cabbages & Kings.  They are all about Honduran characters.  I've found that I don't enjoy them near as much as the stories based in NYC.  O. Henry (William Sydney Porter) had a real feel for the New York of his times and wrote exquisite short stories about the City and its inhabitants.  Four stars.

'Tis easy to be a friend to the prosperous, for it pays; 'tis not hard to be a friend to the poor,f or ye get puffed up by gratitude and have your picture printed standing in front of a tenement with a scuttle of coal and an orphan in each hand. But it strains the art of friendship to be true friend to a born fool.  And that's what I'm doing. ["Tobin's Palm"] is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating. ["The Gift of the Magi"]

Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. ["The Gift of the Magi"]

Spring was in its heyday, with hay fever  soon to follow. ["Between Rounds"]

 But the chief thing at Cypher's was Milly.  Milly was a waitress....She belonged, largely, to waiting. as Minerva did to the art of scrapping, or Venus to the science of serious flirtation. Pedestalled and in bronze she might have stood with the noblest of her heroic sisters as "Liver-and-Bacon Enlivening the World." ["An Adjustment of Nature"]

 As I said, you're a gentleman.  They say it takes three generations to make one. They're off. Money'll do it as slick as soap grease.  It's made you one. By hokey! it's almost made one of me. I'm nearly as impolite and disagreeable and ill-mannered as these two old knickerbocker gents on each side of me that can't sleep of nights because I bought in between 'em. ["Mammon & the Archer"]

Fancy--fluted and droned in a side street. Around the enchanted boundaries of the little park street cars spat and mewed and the stilted trains roared like tigers and lions prowling for a place to enter. ["The Caliph, Cupid, & the Clock"]


Kate said...

Now see what you've done!

I'd planned to sell my complete set of O. Henry -- I've had it for yonks and I do need to downsize, especially in the book dept. And now I've read your lovely review, and all those stories are calling my name. (Picture me digging the books out from the sale pile and back into the TBR pile.) Le sigh.

Bev Hankins said...

@Kate: Sorry! :-)

J F Norris said...

I think "The Ransom of Red Chief" is as equally famous as "The Gift of the Magi". And perhaps "The Last Leaf" is another. Both turn up in anthologies very often. He was a master at the form. No surprise there's an award named after him for short story writing. "The Furnished Room" is chilling. One of the best of its type in a certain genre (which I guess I ought not to reveal).