Monday, May 18, 2009

Double Birthday by Willa Cather

I knew I could count on Willa Cather! Her story, Double Birthday, was the perfect follow-up to last week's disappointment. Her novels My Antonia and O Pioneers! are among my favorites, so I figured no chances would be taken by choosing one of her short stories.

Willa Cather (1873 - 1947) grew up in Nebraska and is best known for her tales of frontier life. Double Birthday, set in Pittsburgh, is part of a group referred to as the Pittsburgh stories. It was first published in The Forum in 1929 and opens:

"Even in American cities, which seem so much alike, where people seem all to be living the same lives, striving for the same things, thinking the same thoughts, there are still individuals a little out of tune with the times - there are still survivals of a past more loosely woven, there are disconcerting beginnings of a future yet unforeseen."

Albert is a middle-aged man who has spent his inheritance on travel and opera tickets, and is now content to live a simple life filled with classical music and books with his elderly uncle (also named Albert). He is planning an 80th birthday party for his uncle, which happens to coincide with his own 55th birthday, when he runs into Judge Hammersley, an old family friend. The Judge says champagne is needed to properly celebrate the occasion, and invites Albert to his home to pick some up. It should be noted that this story takes place during Prohibition.

The Judge instructs his widowed daughter, Margaret, not to invite Albert to stay since he is a man "whom one is...a little embarrassed to meet, because they have not got on as they should." When Albert arrives at the house, he and Margaret reminisce about time spent in Rome during their younger years.

Days later, Margaret decides to drop by Albert's home for the double birthday party. They have a lovely time and she proposes a toast "to the future; to our friendship, and many dinners together. I like you two better than anyone I know." The story then closes with a wonderfully poignant conversation between Albert and his uncle.

Willa Cather delivers a near perfect short story experience and reminds me, once again, how much I have enjoyed her novels. Death Comes For The Archbishop is on my shelf, and I'm considering adding it to my list for the Classics Challenge. I know I'll be reading more of her stories, too.

Visit John at The Book Mine Set to see who else has a shorr story to share today...or link to your short story post.


  1. Great revie JoAnn! I will have to check this one out. Was it in a book of shorts or on the web that you found it?

  2. Thanks, Teddy Rose...I just love Willa Cather! I read this in Best American Short Stories of the Century edited by John Updike. Just did a quick on-line search and wasn't able to find the text anywhere :-(

  3. I haven't read Cather and missed the opportunity when I had Best American Short Stories out from the library. She is definitely on my list of authors to read...I have heard so many good things about her.

  4. I have not read anything by Cather. After reading your post I am tempted enough to try her!

    The Ugly Duckling

  5. BookPsmith - You'll be in for a treat when you get to O Pioneers! or My Antonia.

    John - I knew Cather wouldn't disappoint!

    Gautami - Give her work a try...I doubt you'll be sorry!


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