Though I started on Rebecca West’s The Fountain Overflows, five full books turned out to be too much for NYRB Reading Week. So instead, something a bit different. Thanks to The Literary Stew and Coffeespoons for hosting NYRB Reading Week. It’s been fantastic!
Since the defining quality of Randall Jarrell’s Book of Stories, edited and with an introduction by Randall Jarrell, is that it is edited and introduced by Randall Jarrell, it seems appropriate to discuss it’s introduction as well as its content. I admit to a complete unfamiliarity with Jarrell before receiving this volume as a gift, but then I don’t know much of American poets or critics of his era (born in 1914, Jarrell died in 1965). I found his essay by turns interesting and almost infuriating. I think his arguments about the nature of stories are interesting, and possibly even helpful, except they are littered with sentences like “If wishes were stories, beggars would read; if stories were true, our saviors would speak to us in parables,” and “In narrative at its purest or most eventful we do not understand but are the narrative.” It’s not that I disagree with these points, when I can decipher them. But I find Jarrell’s essay style a bit rambling, perhaps a bit too much on the poetic side; I think I’m supposed to feel too much of it. It would also probably be easier if I knew more Freud, but, you know, that’s cool.
His selection of stories is diverse, interesting, and for the most part—at least, as far as I know, because I haven’t read all the stories—very good. He laments the many exclusions he’s had to make in the introduction, and certainly there are many. Such is the nature of an anthology. A
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