Thursday, February 26, 2015

Review: "The Sunnier Side" by Charles Jackson

At times painfully self-aware and uninteresting, Charles Jackson’s short story collection, The Sunnier Side might have shocked readers when it was published in 1950, but I am sure most readers who aren’t stiff academic types will be lulled to sleep by most of these stories. To be fair, Jackson writing these kinds of stories in 1950 is daring and brave, almost a decade before The Beat Generation. They talk frankly and honestly about subjects like rape, child neglect, homeless and societal misplacement in a time when those problems were not much spoken about in polite conversation. But they also haven’t aged well either, being dry as bone, with some of the longer stories offering little distinction between characters and plots that crumble under the weight of Jackson’s presences in the stories. He is trying to create his own Winesburg, Ohio, with him as Sherwood Anderson and Arcadia has the eponymous town. I knew this collection with the opening story, the title story, which is Jackson’s fictional response to a lady’s letter espousing the virtues of clean, light-hearted stories. He goes on to insult her as well as map out the people of the fictional town of Arcadia. It is an arrogant exercise in self-reflexivity that again, might have been daring in 1950, but has been done and perfected so many times over that it feels tired. The rest of the stories are mixed, with “The Band Concert” a misleadingly dark story of sexual violence and “A Night Visitor” involving the reemergence of one family’s black sheep and “Rachel’s Summer” about the death of a young girl’s sister and her ambiguous secret being the three stories I will take away from this collection. Other’s like “Tenting Tonight”, a title that is self-explanatory and “How War Came to Arcadia, N. Y. “ a fluffier version of Benjamin Percy’s “Refresh, Refresh” fall really flat. A little more of a curiosity from yesteryear, this collection offers a few gems but nothing to throw a parade for.

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