I initially wasn’t aware that Vidal wrote short stories. Eight stories make up this collection and actually they’re rather good, though I did notice that they sort of resemble the tone and style of Tennessee Williams. But this does make sense, as Vidal mentions in his preface that these stories are almost like a response to Willams’s work.
Generally the stories explore themes of innocence, identity, acceptance and sexuality, yet each story shows a different facet of those themes, with each facet building upon the next. As a collection, this is cleverly done.
However for me, four of the stories stand out the most: “The Robin,” “The Zenner Trophy,” “Three Stratagems,” and “Pages from an Abandoned Journal.”
“The Robin” provides a good representation of the thoughts, feelings and impulsive nature of 9-10 year old boys… how impulsive behavior can bring about pangs of conscience and regret.
“The Zenner Trophy” also plays with the ideas of innocence, conscience and regret and mixes it with sexuality, rules and acceptance. I just love this one section where the principal and the student advisor are going over the “just punishment” for the boys’ moment of indiscretion: “‘Who was that ape?’ The irreverent thought amused him and he faced the original of the painting with a smile which the Principal interpreted as applause.” ;-)
“Three Strategems” was actually, according to Vidal, Tennessee Williams’s favorite story in the collection. I think it’s the most reminiscent of Williams’s work. It reminds me of his play, [b:Suddenly Last Summer mixed with André Gide’s L'Immoraliste.
“Pages from an Abandoned Journal” is like that as well, but Vidal adds humor and comedy to the story through the narrator’s interpretation of his daily/nightly excursions and parties. Some of the narrator’s commentary is hysterical. And by coincidence it amused me when, as I began reading, I wrote in the margin that the narrator’s summary of Elliott’s fantastical lifestyle reads like Voltaire’s Candide; two pages later the narrator actually says it himself… that it’s as if he’s “pretending to be a modern Candide.” Hehe! :-) But levity aside, I really liked how Vidal employs irony in this story in association with narrative voice. There’s an interesting dichotomy in terms of the voice of the narrator at the beginning of his journal entries and the journal entries at the end.
This is a very good read and I’m glad that I decided to pair it up with Tennessee Williams’ Collected Stories, which I’m reading next.