The Closed Door and Other Stories
I know I tend to use superlatives when talking about Dorothy Whipple and that doing so too frequently or too effusively can have the opposite of the intended effect. I mention this because I am slightly troubled that all of my past praise of Whipple’s novels makes it all the harder to try and convey to you just how brilliant her short fiction is. In fact, although I truly loved The Priory and High Wages, I never thought them brilliant. They are well written, compelling, and highly enjoyable, but they also have some elements that make the plots a little to neat and tidy. But when it comes to the short story, Whipple’s plotting deficienices, sometimes evident in longer formats, disappear.
I tend not to like short stories because they often leave me scratching my head wondering what exactly happened. They either tend to feel too much like fragments–a slice of life picked out of time–or they just leave too many loose ends and unanswered questions, and I feel like I am not clever enough to understand what I am supposed to feel. But Whipple writes the kind of stories that are quick to draw one in and they have perfect little plot arcs that can be full of twists, but resolve in a way that lets literal-minded me feel satisfied that I “got it”. Of course I realize that this preference for plot resolution is probably something that sets me (and Whipple) apart from the more high minded literati.
My challenges writing plot summaries rises to crisis levels when trying to describe short stories. And these are the kind of stories that one really wants to talk about. But the spoiler alerts alone would take up half the word count so I am going to stick to generalities. Despite it being a joy to read, this collection is not a cozy romp through 1930s and 40s England. These stories deal with abuse neglect, deception, adultery and other types of unpleasantness. Never too desolate (this isn’t Precious after all), but some pack a real emotional wallop. Two of the stories are in a dead heat for my favorite: “The Handbag” for its O. Henry-like plot and “Youth” for its exhilarating resolution that made me want to clap and cry and just plain rejoice that Anne did the right thing. Most of the stories offer at least a glimmer of hope if not outright happiness for the protagonists, but a few of them are just plain tragic. The story “Wednesday” is particularly so.
Many thanks to Verity and Claire who sent this book to me as a prize for Persephone Reading Week. Because they are short stories, I probably would not have gotten around to them until I reard everything else by Whipple. And that would be a mistake.