Matthiessen's first collection of short stories and his first book of new fiction since Far Tortuga, On the River Styx spans the acclaimed career of ...Show synopsisMatthiessen's first collection of short stories and his first book of new fiction since Far Tortuga, On the River Styx spans the acclaimed career of "a unique and masterful visionary artist". (New York Times).Hide synopsis
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This is a collection of ten short stories by naturalist/novelist Peter Matthiessen. Matthiessen wrote the stories over a period of thirty-eight years, between 1950 and 1988. Many of the stories concern men who have placed themselves in dangerous and desperate circumstances, whether through alcohol addiction, criminal behavior, marital discord, fear, superstition or simply arrogance. Matthiessen?s male characters are atavistic and Faulknerian. They are confident in their abilities to survive on deserted islands, forests and swamps, but meet their downfall in their interactions with other men, with the women they find attractive and with society in general. There is a barely concealed wildness and savagery in these characters. Nearly all of the stories are disturbing.
The best of the stories is the final one, Lumumba Lives. It is a wonderfully subtle story of a man who returns to the site of his ancestral home and unravels. The unnamed man returns to the United States after years of living in Africa. There are hints that he is in running from something, or that he has been deported. He is clearly struggling with fear, feelings of inadequacy and, most likely, an antisocial psychological disorder. He makes his way to the affluent suburb of New York City where he grew up, breaks into the mansion where he lived as a child, looks around and leaves. He purchases the gardener?s cottage where he used to play and tries to live, but is too out of place to find peace.
Travelin Man is also quite good. An escaped convict wades through a swamp on the Carolina coastline and rafts his way to what he thinks is an uninhabited island. Within minutes of landing, he is fleeing from something worse than the police. Reminiscent of Richard O?Connell?s classic adventure story, The Most Dangerous Game, this story is more believable and realistic. Horse Latitudes is the one humorous story in the collection. It is about two cabin mates on a freighter. At first glance, the two are completely incompatible and are driving each other crazy. They constantly goad each other, but they distract each other from the mind-numbing monotony and boredom of the long voyage. Ironically, they are holding onto their sanity by driving each other nuts.
Matthiessen is an impressive short story writer. I highly recommend this book.
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