Wednesday, February 14, 2024

SSW: Ellen Gilchrist: "Black Winter", THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, June 1995, edited by Kristine K. Rusch and Edward Ferman: Short Story Wednesday

Patti Abbott having posted a link in her consideration of another story by my choice of SSW author this week, I've just read the obituary for Ellen Gilchrist (1935-2024) from the New York Times by one Adam Nossiter, who gives the impression of resenting having to take a lesser role as obituarist after having been four times a bureau chief in the NYT hierarchy, or perhaps simply resents having to write one for a National Book Award winner he doesn't approve of. Gilchrist, to my knowledge, was not a great self-promoter, and if she diminished herself in her memoirs and some commentary over the years, Nossiter seems keen on making sure that's intensified in his not-quite-screed.

"Black Winter" (which can be read here) was Gilchrist's second and last story in F&SF, after her charming fantasy "The Green Tent" in the November 1985 issue (a grandmother and her grandson take the equivalent of a magic carpet ride in title device), and it's a far less cheerful item, a rather (necessarily) grim but not quite hopeless account of two survivors of a 1996 nuclear war, academics, an older woman named Rhoda (possibly not the same Rhoda who is a recurring character in earlier stories by Gilchrist) and her younger male protege Tannin, whom we meet several days after the short war, as they seek out what they can from various abandoned stores and gas stations in the midwest, keeping away from large cities in an abundance of (sensible) caution. Rhoda is writing the story in the form of a letter to her grandson, whom she hopes is still alive (but has no way of knowing, if so), in Germany; the colleagues get along, wondering if the fallout will eventually come down upon them in deadly form...and they meet up with some interesting folks with whom they can make some common cause. Rhoda had been noting with some concern the hotspots recurring in the news in 1996: Russia, Ukraine, Iran, North Korea. Things don't change so very much three decades later. 

I had never picked up a copy of the June 1995 issue of F&SF, for whatever reason (I was moving into my last Virginia apartment, at least so far, about then), so I've just read the story for the first time tonight. I read  "The Green Tent" when that issue was new, not so very long after I first read her work with "The Famous Poll at Jody's Bar" in The Atlantic Monthly for August 1982, one of her earlier publications.

It's a fine story, and makes its points well, and it (like "The Green Tent") has never been reprinted, as far as I can tell, anywhere but in an anthology in translation, by the former publisher of the German edition of F&SF (much as "The Green Tent" has only been reprinted, as far as I see, in Fiction, the French edition of F&SF). 

I've been meaning to write about Gilchrist's collection The Cabal and Other Stories for a good six or seven years, but I'll have to excavate that volume and finish it. It really has been a tough year on writers I admire. 

For more of today's short stories, please see Patti Abbott's blog, and her fine review of Gilchrist's "The Presidency of the Louisiana Live Oak Society". 

And I'll seek out some less contemptuous obituaries than the Times's.

Contents: (Edward L. Ferman, editor and publisher)

Contents: (edited by Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Edward L. Ferman, published by Ferman)

Sunday, February 4, 2024

Friday's "Forgotten" Books: THE BEST OF SHADOWS edited by Charles L. Grant (Doubleday Foundation 1988); SIXTY YEARS OF GREAT FICTION FROM PARTISAN REVIEW edited by William Phillips (Partisan Review Press 1996)

Two anthologies with content that is difficult to dismiss, if one was even to try.

Online: all issues of Partisan Review, 1934-2003, at Boston University

Sixty Years of Great Fiction from Partisan Review edited by William Phillips (Partisan Review Press, 1996 [or 1/97], ISBN 0-644377-5-9; $24.95. 425+xx pp, hc); jacket/pb cover painting by Helen Frankenthaler

vii  * Foreword * Saul Bellow * fw
xix * Introduction * William Phillips * in
3 * Two Syllables * Ignazio Silone; translated by Samuel Putnam * ss Partisan Review October 1936 (V. 3#6) 
7 * In Dreams Begin Responsibilities * Delmore Schwartz * ss Partisan Review December 1937
13 * Hurry, Hurry * Eleanor Clark * ss Partisan Review January 1938 (V. 4 #2)
19 * Red, White, and Blue Thanksgiving *  John Dos Passos * ss Partisan Review Winter 1939 (V. 6 #2)
23 * The Autobiography of Rose * Gertrude Stein * pm Partisan Review Winter 1939 (V. 6 #2)
26 * The Only Son * James T. Farrell * ss Partisan Review Spring 1939 (V. 6 #3)
34 * A Goat for Azazel (A.D. 1688) * Katherine Anne Porter * ss Partisan Review May/June 1940 (V. 7 #3)
42 * The Man in the Brooks Brothers Shirt * Mary McCarthy * (nv) Partisan Review July/August 1941
65 * Josephine the Singer, or the Mouse Folk * Franz Kafka; translated by Clement Greenberg * ss Partisan Review May/June 1942 (V.9 #3)
76 * Of This Time, of That Place * Lionel Trilling * nv Partisan Review  January/February 1943
101 * The Hand That Fed Me · Isaac Rosenfeld · ss Partisan Review Winter 1944
111 * Cass Mastern’s Wedding Ring · Robert Penn Warren · nv Partisan Review Fall 1944
135 * The Prison * André Malraux; translated by Eleanor Clark * nv Partisan Review March 1948
141 * The Interior Castle * Jean Stafford * ss Partisan Review  November/December 1946
151 * Two Prostitutes · Alberto Moravia; translated by Frances Frenaye · ss Partisan Review May/June 1950
166 * The Jail (Nor Even Yet Quite Relinquish--) * William Faulkner * ex Partisan Review September/October 1951 (V. 18 #5) (can be read at the link) (apparently freestanding; often referred to as simply "The Jail"; from Requiem for a Nun, Random House 1951)
186 * Gimpel the Fool · Isaac Bashevis Singer; translated by Saul Bellow · ss Partisan Review May/June 1953 (V. 20  #3)
206 * Seize the Day * Saul Bellow * na Partisan Review Summer 1956 (V. 23 #3)
268 * The Renegade * Albert Camus translated by Justin O’Brien * ss Partisan Review Winter 1958 (V. 25 #1)
277 * Any Day Now * James Baldwin * ss Partisan Review Spring 1960 (V. 27 #2)
285 * From the Black Notebook * Doris Lessing * ex (The Golden Notebook, Michael Joseph 1962) Partisan Review Spring 1962 (V. 29 #2)
298 * It Always Breaks Out * Ralph Ellison * ex (Three Days Before the Shooting..., Random House 2010) Partisan Review Spring 1963 (V. 30 #1)
308 * The Will and the Way * Susan Sontag * ss Partisan Review Summer 1965 (V. 22 #3)
324 * Runaway * William Styron * ex (The Confessions of Nat Turner Random House 1967) Partisan Review Fall 1966 (V. 33 #4)
330 * Whacking Off * Philip Roth * ex (incorporated into Portnoy's Complaint Random House 1969) Partisan Review Summer 1967 (V. 34 #3)
339 * Mercier and Camier * Samuel Beckett * ex (Mercier and Camier, Grove Press [US] and Calder and Boyans [UK] 1974; French text published 1970)  Partisan Review 1974 (V. 41 #3--in previous numbering, this would've been the Summer 1974 issue)
353 * Levitation * Cynthia Ozick * ss Partisan Review 1979 (V. 46 #3)
362 * The Idea of Switzerland · Walter Abish · nv Partisan Review 1980 (V. 47 #1)
381 * If on a Winter's Night a Traveler * Italo Calvino; translated by William Weaver; ex (If on a winter's night a traveler 1979 in Italian; Harcort 1981 in English translation by Weaver) Partisan Review 1981 (V. 48 #2)
389 * One Summer's Morning in the Village * Amos Oz; translated  by Nicholas de Lange * vi Partisan Review 1984 (V. 51  #4)
390 * Passport Photograph * Amos Oz; translated by Nicholas de Lange * vi Partisan Review 1984 (V. 51  #4)
392 * The Red Dwarf * Michel Tournier; translated by Barbara Wright * ss Partisan Review 1984 (V. 51 #2)
401 * The Feet of a King * Daphne Merkin * ss Partisan Review 1986 (V. 53 #3)
411 * Proust's Tea * Norman Manea; translated by Mara Soceanu-Vamos * ss Partisan Review 1992 (V. 59 #1)
414 * Weddings * Norman Manea; translated by Cornelia Golna * ss Partisan Review 1992 (V. 59 #1)
422 * Serafim * Tatyana Tolstaya; translated by Jamie Gambrell * ss   Partisan Review 1992 (V. 59 #1)

Two volumes of impressive work from two of the best periodicals (even if Shadows was a series of anthologies in hardcover first, followed by paperback reprints, and never a magazine) in their respective compasses. Neither is packaged as well as the contents deserve--the Partisan Review volume is almost amateurish in that it's a poorly-bound, slightly oversized hardcover, with single-column pages that are laid-out almost as if it was a printout from a word-processing program, just wide enough across the oversized pages to make the eyetracks across those pages tiresome. I haven't yet looked to other Partisan Review Press volumes of  its era to see if they were more professionally-packaged and "better-built"; I'd hope so. The Doubleday Foundation binding and layout of this best-of anthology is a step up from what the preceding volumes of Shadows saw from Doubleday in its cost-conscious days in the '70s and '80s, but I'm not so very impressed with the cover illustration. However, a small pat on the back to Doubleday for publishing ten volumes, more or less timed for release around Hallowe'en, for a decade. As with a relatively small number of further issues of Partisan Review published after its anthology's release, there was a final volume, accurately entitled Final Shadows, released in 1981.

But for our purposes today, I'll cite only how one piece of fiction in each impressed me (to say the least) on first reading. Oddly enough, the fiction of their authors in (particularly discursive) moods can often seem somewhat similar: the offhanded erudition, the waspish (not WASPish) wit, but nonetheless the compassion, of Avram Davidson and Saul Bellow are on display here as readily as in any of their other work, in, respectively, "Naples" (1978) and "Seize the Day" (1956).  "Naples" led off the first volume of Grant's series, brilliantly; it would win the World Fantasy Award for best short fiction in 1979 (the excellent shortlist that year included another Davidson story and a story by editor Grant). I first read it in Shadows (the first volume), in a library copy, shortly after first publication in '78, and I picked up the Playboy Press mass-market paperback not too long after. "Seize the Day" I first read in my copy of  23 Modern Stories (1963), edited by Barbara Howe, which I picked up at a library sale, and read over"night" in a summer visit to Fairbanks, AK, with my family in 1981, visiting relatives and old friends of my parents' who still lived there and near(enough)by. The Bellow collection with "Seize" as title story was shortlisted for the 1957 National Book Award, losing, among several other impressive contenders, to Wright Morris's less well-remembered Field of Vision.

More to say soon, as I post this at Saturday's end...our elder cat is in need of some reassuring attention.