A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
Saturday Shorts Week 7
Welcome to our new weekend series for 2014.
Every Saturday this year one of our staff will suggest a favorite short story from the library’s collection, all of them a great choice for quick weekend reading.
With a desperate tug the fingers suddenly wrenched themselves free, hand and all, from the pianist’s cuff and jumped—diamond ring on the little finger glinting—down onto the floor… mincing along on their pink shields of nails, vaulting high into the air with great arpeggio-like leaps.
There’s a tradition in Russian storytelling of having body parts up and leave the body proper, usually becoming the anthropomorphized protagonist of the story in the process. Nikolai Gogol’s “The Nose” is the best, and best-loved, tale of a rebellious extremity. But don’t count out Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s more recent “The Runaway Fingers.” I think its a fitting rival for Gogol’s famous proboscis.
You might not know the name Krzhizhanovsky, or know how to pronounce it for that matter. I can help you a little with the former. He died in 1950, having spent most of his life working as a professor and lecturer in Kiev and secretly writing stories and novellas that were never approved for publication. When his work finally did appear in Russia, 39 years after his death, it was a major find. Krzhizhanovsky’s stories are little philosophical allegories, fantastical tales built around twisty, paradoxical points. They’re funny and whimsical, but always just a bit dark in tone.
“The Runaway Fingers” is the tale of a famous pianist’s emancipated digits. They leave in the middle of a concert and attempt to see life outside the world of privilege that they know. Spending a few nights as a sort of little tramp, they not only feel, but see, hear and hunger. They even know pity and charity while out on the rough city streets of Stalinist Russia. The experience changes the runaway fingers and the pianist himself in unexpected ways.
It’s a strangely moving little story, a unique and transformative experience in its own right. Stop by and check out the author’s collection The Autobiography of a Corpse next time you’re in the library.
Review by Matthew