A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
Saturday Shorts Week 17
Welcome to our 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.
“Corpse” is narrated by a Latin American Literature professor who’s coming apart at the seams. He hasn’t been published in 4 years. He doesn’t have tenure. The chair of his department and the university’s evaluation committee have called him a mediocre teacher. When he misses out on the chance to become the English translator for a famous author, he really starts to lose it.
For some reason he begins to think a lot about cars. Well OK, he thinks about other things too, like Jesus and Hernán Cortéz and Orson Welles, but mostly just cars. He sees them everywhere—abandoned in the street, housed in huge parking garage high rises, stolen, unappreciated, picked clean by thieves. He concocts a story about an automobile hive mind, an almost religious concept of car consciousness, and tries to impress particularly gullible friends with it. While his friends aren’t taken by the tale, he certainly seems to be. As his narrative becomes more and more unbalanced and the tale builds to its weird conclusion, his automotive ponderings become increasingly obsessive and more and more spiritual.
If someone asked me where to start reading Harlan Ellison I would probably point them to this story first. There’s a lot to be said for a couple other pieces from Deathbird Stories, including the apocalyptic title story and the Twilight Zone in Las Vegas tale “Pretty Maggie Money Eyes,” but there’s just something about “Corpse” that seems to sum up Ellison’s writing style. The narrative is a bit disjointed, but not as difficult or tricky as the short puzzle piece chapters of “Deathbird.” The characters are truly unpleasant people who get what’s coming to them, but they’re not quite as seedy and repellent as many of Ellison’s other victims. The story just sort of balances Ellison’s darker/artsier side with his compelling/genre side. It’s the best of both worlds, I guess.
Review by Matthew