Contrast: Thurber’s ‘The Night the Bed Fell’ vs. Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Night We All Had Grippe’

I stood in front of the Writer’s Workshop ready to pontificate my verbal bowel movement. It was ‘Pride Week’ so I was surprised that our four *gay* Writers were all at the Workshop.

“What the hell are you guys doing here? You should be at the Pride Festivities?”

“Oh delectable Botendaddy, all four of us are madly in love with you, each in our own way. We wish to sit here squirming in psychic torment as we are forced to listen to your glorious river of mindless, self-involved, megalomaniacal bull feces prattle like Alexander de Large with his eyes held open watching ultra-violence.”

Said Ramon, leaning back in his chair.

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Weird McKinney Road Gravity Hill

“He is a goddamned moron.” Offered Hiroyuki.

“Our lives are meaningless if we give up our Friday nights to listen to his stupefying drivel. Have I really fallen so far? I have no life!” Moaned the Caribbean Queen.

“Botendaddy is a vapid, mindless shithead. It was either come here or kill myself. It was a tough choice.” Said the Stalker.

“I’m totally drunk and high. I may have taken some acid. I’m hallucinating to the point that the Botendaddy actually sounds marginally intelligent.” Said Chief Guyasuta.

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Most Complete Collection in the Entire World of the Man Literary Series, Joy Littell, editor

“Listen. I just read James Thurber’s short story “The night the bed fell.” It is written in a farcical, rhythmic style rising to a crescendo eerily similar to Shirley Jackson’s “The Night We All Had Grippe.”

Grippe is, in my opinion, the most brilliant short-short story in American Literature in the last 70 years. You can see influences  of H.P. Lovecraft’s “Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” for the ‘writing as rhythm’ style, S.J. Perelman for the dry anti-humor and finally the framing of the story is almost a literary response to Thurber’s “Bed”.

In “Bed” we have the family, with vivid descriptions of the location of each and the various idiosyncrasies of each family member and guest.

While we lack the motion of each character as they move about in “Grippe”, Thurber instead mentally visits the rooms while he interprets each character for the reader through his own lens.

The swirling motion of “Grippe builds to a tornado like crescendo ending up with the lost blanket while in “Bed” separate actions in each room including the writer falling out of his own bed and the noise creating the ensuing chaos as everyone thinks the attic bed fell on father.

We see some more modern treatments of this building-cyclone style of farce that draw on both stories, such as “The Russians are Coming” which builds to complete chaos, but in a town and not a house and the final scene of Grandpa in “Lost Boys.” ‘What I could never stand about Santa Carla is all the damn vampires.’

You can find both stories, ‘Grippe’ and ‘Bed’ in the ‘Man in the Fictional Mode’ series by Joy Littell, 1970-71.

“I am exhausted.” I turned to the Professor. She rolled her eyes.

“Botendaddy… enough of your stupefying nonsense come with us back to our festival hotel suite and let’s just f@&$. You owe us after making us listen to that.”

Said the Park Ranger and Swole Bro nodding in agreement.

“Iced mocha with whole milk?”

Peace be the Botendaddy

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Back to Writing: The Man Series

I walked down the long corridor of the great Mansion at Botendaddy Manor Estates, High above Olde Uniontowne on the ancient haunted plateau of House Utonic.

One of the servants, the lowly, hirsute, deformed, groveling, possibly evil sidekick and laboratory assistant Anton Šafránková Schweik, I believe, was playing Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in an unknown alcove.

The mysterious music echoed throughout the mansion. I spotted the melancholy, brooding Botendaughter. She had been reading the following:

  • Shirley Jackson’s “The Night we all Had Grippe”, with the boozing, smoking parents and the lost blanket mystery.
  • Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”.
  • Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron” (does it seem too much like today?) and
  • “Refund” by Frigyes Karinthy featuring the beloved idiot ‘Wasserkopf’.

“Once your brother dies, we will be the last of the Botens. I fear our house shall fall like the tragic House Utonic and the ill-fated House of Usher. It is our fate. I shall never marry nor have children. I shall someday, when you are in your sepulcher with my beloved mother, the lovely, sweet Annabel Lee, yea I shall walk the halls of this once magnificent manor alone until the last stone crumbles and decays into ancient hoary humus.” She looked up dramatically at the magnificent ceiling, stretching her arms wide like a dangling modifier. “It is my fate, our fate, the fate of our ancestors. Great houses, like great empires must fall.”

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The Beautiful, Melancholy Boten-Daughter, Heiress of Boten Estates

I took a long roak off of my ancient oversize pipe. I nodded in agreement with the Boten-Daughter. Fate would take its course and the ancient house of Boten would fall like House Utonic and thus be thus consumed by the primeval forest.

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Man Book

I was still trying to accumulate the entire “Man” series of Books. Trying to assemble them 47 years after they came out is not easy. They were published from 1970-1971 by McDougal Littell & Co.

They are the singularly greatest series of academic literature books ever written.

It consists of the following:

  • Man in the Literary Mode: Volume 1-6 (I have all six)
  • Man in the Dramatic Mode 1-6 (I have 2, 3, 4 and 6, 1 and 5 are on order)
  • Man in the Poetic Mode 1-6 (I have none) (2-6 are on order, I can’t find book 1 yet)
  • Man in the Expository Mode 1-6 (2, 3, 4 and 6 are on order)
  • Man Series Teacher’s Edition (UPDATE: They don’t have the book!!!)

So, to complete my set, I need:

  • Books 1 and Book 5 of Man in the Expository Mode and
  • Book 1 of Man in the Poetic Mode.
  • Man Series Teacher’s Manual

Here is a picture of it:

Teacher Manual (I NEED THIS BOOK!)
  • If you find any of these books (just the ones I’m missing) at an old bookstore anywhere, please let me know the name and location of the bookstore so I can contact them.
  • If you have any o these books, please let me know

It’s a quest. I need to have the entire set on my shelf.

I’m also still trying to re-create my parents’ 1970’s paperback collection.

Peace be the Botendaddy

 

Reviews: ‘Claudine’s Book’ by Harvey Swados and ‘Charles’ by Shirley Jackson

I stopped writing literary reviews for a while. I took down most of the reviews that I had written because I was getting stale. I had difficulty reading. Everything that I read was boring me into a vapid stupor.

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Lost days of yesteryear

Do you want people to read your work? Write something real and personal. Don’t write in some genre. Don’t write for an audience. Dig painfully and awkwardly into your soul. Because it is your  very uniqueness makes it new and refreshing.

I found these stories in ‘Man in the Fictional Mode’ of the wonderful Man Literary Series compilations from 1970-71.

The series opened my eyes to the most interesting, quirky, magnificent short stories. It was so much better than the horrific bilge we were required to read in school, like the intelligence-insulting ‘The Outsiders’ the mind-numbing pointless ‘Catcher in the Rye’, the literary bowel movement known as ‘Lord of the Flies’ and the grossly derivative, (ripoff of the vastly superior ‘A Passage to India’), political horse-dung known as ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

At any rate, in ‘Charles’ Shirley Jackson is so much more than the macabre. She captures the urban legend of the naughty boy who describes another naughty boy at school who later turns out predictably to be the boy’s alter-ego.

She just tells it better with her rhythmic and hypnotic prose. Her ability to capture these little slice of life vignettes is timeless and almost unparalleled. Her focus on the little things in life instead of the super-action-Hollywood grandiose is so refreshing. She is truly a master of Americana.

If you fancy yourself a writer and if you have any interest in the Americana genre of literature and you have not read Shirley Jackson beyond ‘The Lottery’, shame on you.

Dont read it on a device either, find a compilation of her work in an actual book.

Her husband, Stanley Edgar Hyman, was a literary critic who focused on understanding the critic’s bias, which he referred to as ‘metaphor’ or the lens through which the critic evaluated an author’s work.

I often talk about my mood or state of mind when I do a critique. Bias is a pejorative word that detracts from the critic’s frame of reference. I don’t use the cheap word ‘bias’, because everyone has biases. It is rendered meaningless by overuse and is an ad hominem attack on the critic. So if you use the word bias, then you can just bugger right off, mate.

‘Claudine’s Book’ by the long forgotten Harvey Swados is a tale of a lonely twelve year-old girl living with her father in a small New England town. She hangs out with a boy through whom she gets a stack of old diary books and fills them with her articulate, expressive writing.

The books get discovered and published by a New York Literary agent. Claudine decides she doesn’t like the publicity, so she falsely hints that her aunt actually inspired, if not wrote them herself. The aunt, the lonely sister of Claudine’s deceased French war bride Mom, is more than happy to take the credit.

Claudine has other plans in life and being known as a writer was not one of them. She is liberated from the burden of the book when she disavows the writing as her own.

The point of the story is that success at something undesired or uninteresting that does not define us, is worse than failure at what we love.

Maybe this is why some people who are so successful at one thing would rather be doing something else.

Peace be the Botendaddy

Review: Shirley Jackson ‘The Night we all had Grippe’

What an amazing short story.

What a beautiful, lyrical piece of Americana.

Originally published in Harper’s Magazine in the January, 1952 edition with a four-frame illustration.

It was the lead story from ‘Man in the Fictional Mode’ Volume 2 from the wonderful ‘Man’ Literature series that made its entrance into American schools in the early 1970s.

I hated school until the day I discovered these books.

They were banned in some districts due to ‘at that time’ politically incorrect themes.

Shirley Jackson, most famous for her dark piece: ‘The Lottery’, switched gears for this funny slice of family life.

The story has this bizarre precisely mechanical and almost rhythmical cadence, contrast to Lovecraft’s bizarre but equally rhythmical ‘Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath’ or Roald Dahl’s frenetic narration in ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’.

The subject matter of ‘Grippe’ is common to many, but not usually captured in such campy detail.

I especially like the fact that the parents each had alcohol and cigarettes at their bedsides. Unthinkable today.

Her epic opening line: ‘We are all of us, in our family, very fond of puzzles.’ sets the tone for the rest of the story.

In the end the little blanket disappears and the mystery is gained not solved:

‘It was a blue patterned patchwork blanket, and has not been seen since, and I would most particularly like to know where it got to. As I say, we are very short of blankets.’  “Shirley Jackson Novels and Stories” at p. 626

‘Man in the Fictional Mode’ Volume 2 is one of the greatest compendiums of 20th Century short American Fiction I have ever seen.

The only ones that rival it are Ray Bradbury’s ‘Illustrated Man’, Kurt Vonnegut’s “Welcome the Monkey House” and Lauren Groff’s “Delicate Edible Birds”.

If you haven’t read this story, if you haven’t read Shirley Jackson, if you haven’t read the ‘Man’ series and you fashion yourself an American writer, or a writer of Americana, please help yourself and do all of the above.

 

Peace,

The Botendaddy