Like many writers, I spend a great deal of my time reading. And although a well-written novel with characters so vivid and content so rich ranks right up there with a chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc and a crab cake, it is the simplicity of the short story that really satisfies me.
If you were educated in the United States, then perhaps your teachers exposed you to a number of the benchmarks in the short story category, stories such as Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man is Hard to Find, or Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper.
The best short story I have ever read is The Guest (or in French, The Host) by Albert Camus.
Literary critics writing about this story in the last twenty-five years have sliced and diced The Guest into a cold slaw. Their opinions are diverse; their textual support is impressive in both French and English, but my God, leave the poor story alone! Find another topic for your Master’s thesis…
Have you seen women who have had so much plastic surgery that you cannot recognize their original faces?
For those of you who haven’t read The Guest, here is a brief objective summary:
Daru, a French colonial teacher, working with Arab children and living alone in the Algerian mountains, is put upon by the French government to make a choice concerning the life of another man, called by Camus the Arab, who has murdered one of his own people out in his village. In an existential response, Daru ignores the government by giving the Arab a choice to follow one of two literal paths: the path to jail, and thus death, or the path to freedom. In a curious move, the Arab, a prisoner, takes the path to jail. And in an ironic ending, the Arab’s kinsmen murder Daru.
This story’s central idea is about choice. That’s it.
Camus explores Daru’s choices, the Arab’s choices, the Gendarme’s choices and ultimately, asks us, the reader, to consider our own choices.
Now back to my Sauvignon Blanc.