My goal is to eventually make my way through all of these must-reads. And since May is Short Story Month, I figured it was the perfect time to look at the two short stories included on the list – Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” and Cornell Woolrich’s “Rear Window.”
“The Most Dangerous Game”
I really liked “The Most Dangerous Game.” For one thing, even though I was vaguely aware of the story, I wasn’t entirely sure which way it would go in the end. And one thing that caught me off guard was how quickly it moved through the hunt itself. I expected more time to be spent on it, but most of the story was the build-up to this main event. The hunt seemed a bit rushed… but then again, maybe the fact that more time is spent on the psychological build-up than the physical hunt reinforces the idea that the mind is more important than the body. (Or maybe I’m just fishing.)
Katherine Ramsland describes Connell’s story as a sinister commentary on humanity… or inhumanity. “It’s disturbing that humans can become so callous and cruel as to treat their own kind as prey, yet such dehumanization clearly works as entertainment. This theme is likely to show up again and again – in fiction and otherwise – as an archetypal truth about human nature.”
“Rear Window” wasn’t as fun to read. I might have felt differently if I’d not seen the movie a couple years ago, but it follows the story so closely that there weren’t any real surprises. I felt like I spent the entire time just waiting for the inevitable end. I’m curious what my reaction would have been had I read the story first.
Thomas F. Monteleone praises Woolrich for his flawed hero, who really makes the story what it is. “In the typical noir tale, the protagonist is plagued by powerful, most likely sinister, forces…. ‘Rear Window’ is a brilliant inversion of that basic noir paradigm. Hal Jeffries, the protagonist, through his latent voyeurism and ever-increasing obsession, creates his own world of menace, then enters blindly into a labyrinth of deception and suspicion that could ultimately destroy him.”
In all fairness, I don’t usually read short stories. They just don’t appeal to me. I prefer a novel, or even a novella, something long enough to really sink into… and to be honest, I wasn’t really looking forward to reading either one of these. So that I ended up enjoying even one was a pleasant surprise. (And despite my lukewarm reaction, it’s hard to call the other a disappointment.)
Thirty-one down, sixty-nine to go…
Next month I’ll be discussing John Grisham’s The Firm.