The Ilonka Reader

Notes on the Books I Have Read

Category: short stories

Everything that rises must converge

By Flannery O’Connor

[A bit behind on my write-ups…]

I bought this from the Harvard Bookstore at a warehouse sale on a whim, because I had been meaning to read some Flannery O’Connor (I think I had read A Good Man is Hard to Find in high school…) and the book cover had a wonderful watercolor design on it.

The stories are stark and ambiguous, often of terrible things being done to people, in a rural South I really know little about. There was a story of a grandfather who hated his son and grandchildren except for one girl that was very like him. He owned some of the land his son and family lived on and decided to sell the piece just in front of their house to be developed as a gas station, which would ruin their view of the mountains. The girl came to hate him for this and he tried to give her a beating and then she became violent towards him.

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Kitchen and Moonlight Shadow

By Banana Yoshimoto.

Kitchen is the novel and Moonlight Shadow is the novella companion, hardly more than a short story. They are the debut stories of a Japanese author. She picked the name Banana for herself as her pen name. Kitchen is quirky and strange, the voice just a little off somehow, perhaps it’s the translation. The main character had a personality that took me a while to find, but the story was great, the twists and turns not the focus but the background for the main character’s development.

I enjoyed Moonlight Shadow much more, though perhaps Kitchen prepared me for the style and I was more receptive to it. It was incredibly sad with a touch of magic realism that was almost… not beside the point or unnecessary but not the key to the story’s success. I cried for a long time afterward, the sadness of the story bringing out other sadnesses in myself.

Nine Stories

By J. D. Salinger.

I enjoyed these stories a lot. I would like to re-read them, along with Franny and Zooey. I love Salinger’s straight-forward descriptions and way of setting a scene. The writing still feels modern, despite the dialogue clearly being dated.

I did feel that sometimes Salinger was going over my head when he didn’t need to, which I didn’t appreciate.¬†For instance, in Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes, there is a twist to the story which was great but I didn’t glean from the text — I had to read about it online. I don’t see the point in being so obtuse. The story was an amazing character study and being clearer with the twist at the end would not have disrupted that. I wonder if more of the nine¬†stories had some extra layer that I didn’t catch.

Many of these stories are occupied with children, particularly precocious children. This seems to be common in Salinger’s writing.