Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Short Story Wednesday: Wilma Shore: WW2 stories in McCALL'S: "You Can't Tell Your Mother", "A Woman in Love", "Something of Her Own"

Wilma Shore as a writer has been of continuing interest to me, and the recent citations in the FictionMags Index which included links to the full texts of McCall's magazine, in the Internet Archive, made for a rather good couple of hours' reading. She didn't collect any of these three stories in her one book of fiction, Women Should Be Allowed, but they are nearly as good as those that are, particularly the last of them. I have to wonder if she sent her stories to the Ladies' Home Journal first, on her market list of women's magazines, and if the possible title change of her first story for McCall's (as it would make a bit more sense if titled "You Can't Tell My Mother") or some more conservative tilt in the magazine made it less-favored by Shore for her best work in this wise.

"You Can't Tell Your Mother" is the first and slightest of these three, dating from the May 1942 issue of McCall's, just far enough into US direct combat in the war for a bulletin elsewhere in the issue about how rayon stockings are Almost as good as nylon or silk, but special care must be taken with them. It's a mostly charming, if sad, story about a young girl (a bright 8yo), who confesses to one of her mother's coworkers her own terror of Uboats/submarines generally, as well as other war-driven fear, and how she doesn't dare share these with her mother, despite the protagonist encouraging her to do so, for fear of burdening her mother unduly...which gets the childless protagonist thinking about how very terribly complex as well as terrifying the current crises can only seem to all of us.  I suppose, if the title is Shore's, it was meant to suggest that the girl would advise us thus, but I suspect Shore might've found a more deft way of doing so. 

"A Woman in Love" (from the April 1943 issue) is a much longer and more complex story, focused on the relationship between a married couple of their early middle years, and how they are drawn into direct participation in the war effort, and the stresses this (and external stresses from coping with the demands of wartime activity more generally) places on their relations...told from the wife's point of view, the story is somewhat less thoroughly supportive of her somewhat cooling response to how her husband begins to disappoint her, for the first time in their marriage, in his less than self-sacrificing commitment...without damning her or him from Shore's perspective. But I think Shore wanted us to be a bit disappointed in her for the nature of her disappointment in him. 

While the best of the three is her last in McCall's (ever, as far as the FictionMags Index, or FMI, is aware), from the March 1944 issue, "Something of Her Own", a rather fully-realized account of the somewhat confusing cautious slide into a romantic relationship between two somewhat unconventional young professionals, she working as a stenographer, he as a slightly dissatisfied but obligated junior corporate lawyer, and both always not quite sure of what they genuinely want from life, and never fully at ease with the choices they make or have thrust upon them. It rather expertly deals directly with the complex of emotions wartime separation inflicts on couples, along with the other matters of family, worklife and other pressures that most of us have faced to one degree or another in this country (and most if not all others, in somewhat differing ways) over the last century. 

These are sensitively-written stories, with relatively little if any Forced Uplift (much less Happily Ever After/For Now strictures that are placed on most romance fiction over the decades), and interesting to see in the context of even the sober times they were published in, in a magazine that wasn't (perhaps correctly, but not completely correctly) seen as fully advancing the cause of women as whole persons...but particularly in those days, when they were interested in Wilma Shore contributions, along with those from a relatively few people whose names might strike similar faint bells (such as Rachel Field or Faith Baldwin), doing what they and the magazine staffs (and it's notable how many of the executive editors were men in this decade, and for the next couple of decades at least) felt they could to provide various sorts of service to their readers. (Shore on the new sobriety of the women's magazines and other "slicks" as World War 2 ground on.) 

From the FMI:

For more of today's short stories, please see Patti Abbott's blog.


pattinase (abbott) said...

How grateful this writer would be to know more than half a century later, someone is reading her stories with pleasure.

Todd Mason said...

One hopes she might, and also that she felt that she might have felt she earned a continuing audience (though I suspect she would be even happier with those stories she placed with slightly less strictured markets, though as I hope I suggest above and in previous reviews of her even better work, she turned any strictures, in THE NEW YORKER as well as in WOMAN'S DAY, as well as in THE NEW MASSES, to her own ends, and she was a consummate professional while doing so, and with a pro's expectations, I suspect). She did write an essay, linked in the older posts about her work, about how WW2 did bring a new seriousness and depth to the fiction the women's magazines were willing to publish, much to her approval. (I note elsewhere how still-startled the O. HENRY AWARDS editor of much of the '60s was that commercial magazines for women and men were at least as open to first-rate literary work as [certainly not uncommercial] THE NEW YORKER and subsidized little magazines, by the mid '60s..sadly the era that saw such prestige-items begin to drop from the contents of such magazines, as belts began to tighten.

If I get around to having the wherewithal to run a small press, a new collection of Shore's work is definitely on the agenda. Reading her work in slightly gray photostats online is not the fate her work deserves. (It's perhaps notable that even in sf/fantasy, her most savage satire, excellently nailed down and visceral as it was, "Goodbye, Norma Jean", wasn't published in her "usual" market for such work in the '60s and '70s, F&SF, as her other three stories for fantastica magazines were, but in GALAXY, which was reaching out for "dangerous visions" fiction even more assiduously at that time.)

TracyK said...

I remember that my mother and my grandmother both read McCall's (and many other magazines) when I was growing up in the 50s and the 60s. My grandmother read mysteries too. I remember when her sight got so bad that she could no longer read, when I was in my early 20s, she said to me: "Can you imagine how horrible it would be to no longer be able to read magazines?" And of course, I couldn't.

Todd Mason said...

No damned fun, that, a family afflicted with various eye problems (though my own childhood farsightedness was grown out of by high school, and my sister has been mostly spared, but I believe now uses reading glasses), I was entirely too aware of how Not being able to read would be more than a minor inconvenience. Nowadays, with entirely too much print, I need reading glasses, at least for any length of time spent reading (it didn't help that I had to have cataract surgery on both mother and I both had our cataracts develop at about the same time, and I have wondered since if there was some sort of environmental cause or at least trigger).

My mother took a range of women's "service" magazines, and I'm only sorry she didn't take REDBOOK during the '70s, the Last Holdout in featuring interesting and regular fiction among the "Sisters" magazines, after COSMO pretty much stopped. I didn't find the latter-day GOOD HOUSEKEEPING or BETTER HOMES AND GARDENS particularly interesting, but would've tried the REDBOOK fiction. I certainly read the PLAYBOY fiction in my father's back issues when I dug them out (along with their other adolescent charm).

George said...

I've read some Wilma Shore titles over the years. I echo what Patti said: it's great you're enjoying Wilma Shore's work after most of the world has forgotten her.

Todd Mason said...

Well, she isn't Quite forgotten, George...people in groups such as FictionMags remember how amused, or shaken up, they were by her stories in F&SF and GALAXY, at very least.

Todd Mason said...

And the disturbing GALAXY story I refer to above has the somewhat less Monroe-driven title "Goodbye Amanda Jean" instead.