Book Report: The Best of Saki by Saki (1994)

Book coverI have a bit of a confession to make, gentle reader: when I was younger, middle school or high school perhaps, I was prone to confuse Saki with O. Henry. Mostly because I knew that both were short story writers who used pseudonyms. I am pretty sure that I only had O. Henry stories available in the giant reusable English textbooks of the day, but it certainly wouldn’t have helped that I only read “A Retrieved Reformation” and maybe “The Gift of the Magi” and no Saki whatsoever. Because the styles are quite different.

One wonders if young people today, or even college English majors, could tell the difference between the two or know just that much about them (short stories, pseudonyms) to confuse them. Probably not.

It doesn’t help that Saki short stories are rather short, with a bit of a twist to them kind of like O. Henry stories. However, they are very British. They reminded me of Chesterton’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, as it too deals mostly with upper crust members of society at their particular concerns and country manors. Several deal with Clovis, a young sophisticate and how he punctures some of the more fuddy-duddy members of his class.

The book also plays upon the trope of aunts, childless women in the family who insert themselves into the lives of their families (or who end up raising the children in the family for various reasons). Kind of like a relatively recent Progressive insurance commercial I’ll post below but which will be yanked from YouTube within a year as its rights expire or something, and we’ll all wonder what I was talking about when viewing this post in 2026:

One had to wonder if the shrinking size of the American family has put all of that aunt energy into the political arena to our detriment.

At any rate, an enjoyable read at 178 pages in a cheap college-reader paperback edition.

I did flag a couple of things:

The baddest word
The book does feature the baddest word, and even in Britain in the late 1800s or early 1900s, it’s used to show the speaker in a bad light. In this case, a man who would like to be known as an expert in religious architecture has moonlighted as the writer of poems that are set to popular music of the day, and he’s afraid that he’ll be known as the writer of music that, erm, black minstrels sing. So it’s not the main character (Clovis) using it, but a bit of a ridiculous fellow.

Although, to be honest, the word “minstrel” is probably already on its way to being a bad word, and I should probably be banned from polite society for using it. Not that 1) there’s any part of society that’s polite these days, and 2) I probably would not be part of that world anyway.

I’m right there with you

“It’s not the daily grind that I complain of,” said Blenkinthrope resentfully; “It’s the dull grey sameness of my life outside of office hours. Nothing of interest comes my way, nothing remarkable or out of the common. Even the little things that I do try to find some interest in don’t seem to interest other people.”

Ya know, I spend my off hours reading books I only post about on this blog, writing poems that I’m not sanguine about placing with magazines, and doing various crafts that end up in boxes in the garage because I’m not sure they’d be of interest to anyone but me, and I’m not eager to open an Etsy account to determine if that’s truly the case.

Hopefully, though, I won’t have the comeuppance or resolution that Blenkinthrope has which involves a fictional chicken.

Walmarts Dollar Generals in 1910 England

“The outlook is not encouraging for us smaller businesses,” said Mr. Scarrick to the artist and his sister, who had taken rooms over his suburban grocery store. “These big concerns are offering all sorts of attractions to the shopping public which we couldn’t afford to imitate, even on a small scale–reading-rooms and play-rooms and gramaphones and Heaven knows what.”

I guess it was not the Dollar Generals back then, but the same complaints are heard today, ainna?

The solution, devised by the artist, involves having some actors in to provide some intrigue which the housewives spread amongst themselves and that pretend intrigue draws them in to shop.

I’m not sure if it would work at the Pricecutter–it’s hard to keep the story lines straight when the employee turnover is accellerating (Dusty was in produce for a number of years, Ira and Debbie’s pharmacy is gone, Ron, the retiree who worked at Pricecutters as a bagger for fifteen years after retirement from his real job, and Linda, the sour checker, are gone; even Andrea and Ryan, the later replacements who checked and worked their ways up to the courtesy counter, have been gone for–years?)

But it’s a good example of how the stories have their twists, and how they might have been ahead of their time. Or how, perhaps, I did not give enough credit to stories and concerns that were nearly universal in industrial/modern societies that might have been shared by people or writers before my time (random thought: My brother and I offered this rejoinder to our sainted mother back in the day: “It’s the 80s, Mom.” which is an anachronism now).

I guess that’s why I read: to broaden my horizon and to realize that my experience is not so unique.

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