Book Review: The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter
Born in Texas as Callie Russel Porter in 1894, Porter adopted her grandmother’s name (though in alternative spellings) after her first divorce. As a distant descendant of Daniel Boone and O. Henry (who’s actual last name was indeed Porter) it’s not too hard to see qualities of the intrepid frontiersman and the curious wit in Porter’s writing. Only moderately educated and first married at sixteen, Porter worked at acting and singing, then journalism and eventually fiction writing. She went on to a celebrated literary life, teaching at several high profile universities (i.e. Stanford) and winning the National Book Award along with her Pulitzer. The titular book of this post has become her legacy and in many ways the unofficial memoir of one of the more interesting people of the 20th century.
I love that in the middle of this 1966 Pulitzer Prize winner, The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter, there is a funny little trilogy of short novels (not funny ha ha, believe me) ostensibly written as a reaction to the authoress’ narrow survival of a flu epidemic in 1918. The first short novel in this reactionary trilogy, “Old Mortality”, makes sense as a response to surviving sickness thematically and mood-wise, the last in the trilogy “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” could almost be a retelling of what Porter’s survival experience might have been, but the middle story (also the story at the very middle of the book (13 stories before and 13 after)) makes almost no sense at all. As is my wont, I did not conclude that this abstruseness was due to a slippage of competence in the writer, but an effort to communicate something beyond thematicism, romanticization, and even allegory. Yes, I think perhaps Porter is trying to tell us something. So, if I was going to reread this book, I think I would begin with that middle short novel, “Noon Wine”, (or maybe end with it) because I think it perhaps tells us the most about Porter and her values as a writer and/or human and how her work should be read. Perhaps, however, the important point here, the takeaway, is that I would consider rereading Porter’s book, I thought it was that good.
On that note, having read 50 years of Pulitzers, I believe it is time for me to start shopping for a cardigan sweater to go along with 1967, our Pulitzer Anniversary Year.