Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Missing Shadows and Swimming Pools

Here it is Wednesday already and I haven't yet mentioned the two short stories I read for my short story Sunday. Unlike with the previous two, these two had no serendipitous similarities. But that's okay, they were still good. The first story is Virginia Woolf's two pager called "The Mysterious Case of Miss V." Miss V is one of those people you see everywhere, at work and parties, the grocery store, but never say anything more to than a passing pleasantry. The person means nothing to you except when you don't see them anymore. Such is the case with this gem. Woolf is brilliant. Yes, I know I am sounding like a broken record and maybe I should change this blog to Woolf Woolf Woolf! instead of So Many Books. I'll try to impart what is amazing in the case of this story. She begins the story in a sort of all-knowing first person point of view. Within the space of one paragraph, the narrator creates a context for the story talking about crowds and loneliness and the people we depend on daily to validate our existence--the postal carrier, the butcher, the parson's wife, and what happens when these people stop noticing us. Very cleverly, the next paragraph begins with you: "The ease with which such a fate befalls you suggests it is really necessary to assert yourself in order to prevent yourself from being skipped." And suddenly we have the narrator saying when it gets too quiet in her apartment she knocks over a chair so the person in the apartment below will have to notice her. The reader is drawn in and made sympathetic to the narrator and is about to become implicated in what follows. What follows is Miss V who "seemed to melt into some armchair or chest of drawers" when not spoken to. Miss V is a shadow. What is one way we know we are real and solid and exist? A shadow, right? So what happens when your shadow, in this case Miss V, goes missing? This is no Peter Pan story where the good Wendy finds the shadow and reunites it with Peter. After much unease over what has become of Miss V, the narrator finally makes the effort to go to her flat and inquire as to her well-being. But the narrator is too late. Miss V died the day before. And without your shadow, how do you know you are real? You don't. And so you resort to doing things like knocking over chairs. After I finished reading the story, all I could do was sit there and repeat "wow" over and over. Even now it is a wonderment. The other story I read was very different. "In the Pool" is by Hideo Okuda and one of five stories in a collection by the same title. The story takes place in modern day Japan. Kazuo, an editor at a women's magazine begins to feel a bit "off." Feeling a bit off turns into upset stomach, diarrhea and a host of other symptoms that prompts him to keep going to the doctor. The doctors can't find anything wrong with him and keep passing him around. Finally, he is sent to see Dr. Irabu, a doctor of neurology, also known as a therapist. Dr. Irabu tells Kazuo he needs to start exercising, an idea Kazuo thinks is ludicrous given Dr. Irabu's own jiggly girth. Still, Kazuo decides to take up swimming, a sport he used to be good at in college. Soon he finds himself addicted to swimming. He tells Dr. Irabu how great it is and Irabu starts swimming too. Irabu even eggs on Kazuo to swim more and more. In Japan there is a mandatory 10 minute rest period after 50 minutes. Kazuo can swim 2 kilometers in those fifty minutes and Irabu asks him if he doesn't wish he didn't have to take a break. What ensues is a hilarious failed attempt at breaking and entering and an epiphany for Kazuo who is now cured in spite of, or because of, Irabu's unorthodox methods. The story is an entertaining comedy on the stress and stupidity of modern life; the things we do to make ourselves sick and the unusual steps we sometimes have to take to get better.