Monday, May 31, 2010

Short Story Monday: "Doctor Jack-o'-Lantern" by Richard Yates

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates is one of the most "real" novels I've ever read. It perfectly captures Frank and April Wheeler's frustration and discontent with suburban lifestyle. Last weekend, while browsing at Strand Bookstore, I came across The Collected Stories of Richard Yates and wondered if the author could convey the same intensity in short works. I had to buy it and find out.

The answer, it turns out, is a resounding yes! "Doctor Jack-o'-Lantern", the first story in collection, does not disappoint. It opens:
"All Miss Price had been told about the new boy was that he'd spent most of his life in some kind of orphanage, and that the gray-haired "aunt and uncle" with whom he now lived were really foster parents, paid by the Welfare Department of the city of New York."
Miss Price accepts this vague background and takes up Vincent Sabella's classroom assimilation as something of a personal mission. She has her work cut out for her as Vincent arrives wearing "absurdly new corduroys, absurdly old sneakers and a yellow sweatshirt, much too small, with the shredded remains of a Mickey Mouse design stamped on it's chest." His tangled black hair, gray skin, and teeth tinged green at the roots don't help matters.

On the first day, Vincent is fascinated by the Monday morning activity known as "reports". The 4th graders are invited to share weekend activities as they transition back to the routine of the school week. Stories of drives in the country, new cars, seeing Doctor Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde at the movie theater, and spending time with friends seem to be the norm.

As you might imagine, Vincent is not warmly welcomed by his classmates. He stays at school while other children go home for lunch and always stands apart on the playground. Miss Price, sensing Vincent's need, lavishes extra praise and attention on him, but "by the end of the week he was well on the way to becoming the the worst possible kind of teacher's pet, a victim of the teacher's pity."

The following Monday when Vincent shares a report, it begins "Saturday I seen that pitcha...Doctor Jack-o'-Lantern and Mr. Hide."
He continues on:
"And then on Sunday my mudda and fodda come out to see me in this car they got. This Buick. My fodda siz, 'Vinny, wanna go for a little ride?' I siz, 'Sure, where yiz going?'..."
His tall tale culminates with a cop chase and gunfire.

Of course, none of this helps his social standing or ability to fit in. Children taunt Vincent by calling him Doctor Jack-o'-Lantern, and he responds with an action that has the teacher wondering if perhaps she should not have taken up his cause. The story ends with Vincent staging a final, even grander, act of vandalism.

I loved the raw emotion in this story! Miss Price's desire to help and nurture is as strong as Vincent's desire to fit in. Both are left frustrated and disappointed. I cannot wait to read more of the collection.

Short Story Monday is hosted by John Mutford at The Book Mine Set.

10 comments:

  1. This sounds brilliant - I am getting really into short stories!

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  2. Sounds like a fantastic collection - I can't wait to hear more about it.

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  3. I have read Richard Yates but never the short fiction. This is quite tempting for the summer!

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  4. It's great that this book has been worth the purchase. I still haven't read Revolutionary Road yet, but I'm really looking forward to it! I hope the rest of the stories are great!

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  5. Sounds like amazing, too capture so much emotion in a short story is a feat.

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  6. I've never read anything by Richard Yates. Must. Fix. That.
    Thank you!

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  7. This sounds like a wonderful collection. I'll have to check it out.

    I reviewed on that John reviewed in April. I quite enjoyed it.

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  8. Hannah - I've been enjoying short stories for the last year or so. I like the experience of sitting down and reading an entire piece... something I rarely do with a novel!

    Nymeth - I have high hopes for the rest of the collection!

    Frances - Would love to have you join me!

    Staci - And I still haven't seen the Revolutionary Road movie... don't know what I'm waiting for!

    Carolsnotebook - I love it when short stories can convey so much emotion.

    DS - Don't think you'd regret time spent with Richard Yates. Easter Parade will be his next novel I read.

    Teddy Rose - I'll be around this afternoon to check out the rest of the SSM posts - look forward to seeing which one you chose!

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  9. Fantastic review JoAnn! As you know I adore Richard Yates and got this collection of stories for my birthday last month - I can't wait to get started on them now!

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  10. Bookssnob - I think you'll enjoy these. My plan was to read Easter Parade first but, for some reason, the stories were calling.

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