The New York Times
Novelties & Souvenirsby John Crowley
A master literary stylist, John Crowley has carried readers to diverse and remarkable places in his award-winning, critically acclaimed novels -- from his classic fable, Little, Big, to his New York Times Notable Book, The Translator. Now, for the first time, all of his short fiction has been collected in one volume, demonstrating the/em>/em>/em>… See more details below
A master literary stylist, John Crowley has carried readers to diverse and remarkable places in his award-winning, critically acclaimed novels -- from his classic fable, Little, Big, to his New York Times Notable Book, The Translator. Now, for the first time, all of his short fiction has been collected in one volume, demonstrating the scope, the vision, and the wonder of one of America's greatest storytellers. Courage and achievement are celebrated and questioned, paradoxes examined, and human frailty appreciated in fifteen tales, at once lyrical and provocative, ranging fromthe fantastic to the achingly real. Be it a tale of an expulsion from Eden, a journey through time, the dreams of a failed writer, ora dead woman's ambiguous legacy, each story in Novelties & Souvenirs is a glorious reading experience, offering delights to be savored ... and remembered.
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Novelties & SouvenirsCollected Short Fiction
By Crowley, John
"There was, of course," Sir Geoffrey said, "the Inconstancy Plague in Cheshire. Short-lived, but a phenomenon I don't think we can quite discount."
It was quite late at the Travellers' Club, and Sir Geoffrey and I had been discussing (as we seemed often to do in those years of the Empire's greatest, yet somehow most tenuous, extent) some anomalous irruptions of the foreign and the odd into the home island's quiet life -- small, unlooked-for effects which those centuries of adventure and acquisition had had on an essentially stay-at-home race. At least that was my thought. I was quite young.
"It's no good your saying 'of course' in that offhand tone," I said, attempting to catch the eye of Barnett, whom I felt as much as saw passing through the crepuscular haze of the smoking room. "I've no idea what the inconstancy Plague was."
From within his evening dress Sir Geoffrey drew out a cigar case, which faintly resembled a row of cigars, as a mummy case resembles the human form within. He offered me one, and we lit them without haste; Sir Geoffrey started a small vortex in his brandy glass. I understood that these rituals were introductory -- that, in other words, I would have my tale.
"It was in the later eighties, Sir Geoffrey said. "I can't remember now how I first came to hear of it, though I shouldn't be surprised if it was some flippant note in Punch. I paid no attention at first; the popular delusions and madness of crowds' sort of thing. I'd returned not long before from Ceylon, and was utterly, blankly oppressed by the weather. It was just starting autumn when I came ashore, and spent the next four months more or less behind closed doors. The rain! The fog! How could I have forgotten? And the oddest thing was that no one else seemed to pay the slightest mention. My man used to draw the drapes every morning and say in the most cheerful voice, 'Another dismal wet one, eh, sir?' and I would positively turn my face to the wall."
He seemed to sense that he had been diverted by personal memories, and drew on his cigar as though it were the font of recall.
"What brought it to notice was a seemingly ordinary murder case. A farmer's wife in Winsford, married some decades, came one night into the Sheaf of Wheat, a public house, where her husband was lingering over a pint. From under her skirts she drew an old fowling piece. She made a remark which was later reported quite variously by the onlookers, and gave him both barrels. One misfired, but the other was quite sufficient. We learn that the husband, on seeing this about to happen, seemed to show neither surprise nor anguish, merely looking up and well, awaiting his fate.
"At the inquest, the witnesses reported the murderess to have said, before she fired, 'I'm doing this in the name of all the others.' Perhaps it it was 'I'm doing this, Sam [his name], to save the others.' Or possibly, 'I've got to do this, Sam, to save you from that other,' The woman seemed to have gone quite mad. She gave the investigators an elaborate and horrifying story which they, unfortunately, did take down, being able to make no sense of it. The rational gist of it was that she had shot her husband for flagrant infidelities which she could bear no longer. When the magistrate asked witnesses if they knew of such infldelities -- these things, in a small community, being notoriously difficult to hide -- the men, as a body, claimed that they did not. After the trial, however, the women had dark and unspecific hints to make, how they could say much if they would, and so on. The murderess was adjudged unfit to stand trial, and hanged herself in Bedlam not long after.
"I don't know how familiar you are with that oppressive part the world. In those years farming was a difficult enterprise at best, isolating, stultifyingly boring, unremunerative. Hired men were heavy drinkers. Prices were depressed. The women aged quick what with continual childbirth added to a load of work at least equal to their menfolk's. What I'm getting at is that it is, or was, a society the least of any conducive to adultery, amours, romance. And yet for some reason it appeared, after this murder pointed it up, so to speak, dramatically, that there was a veritable plague of inconstant husbands in northern Cheshire."
"It's difficult to imagine," I said, "what evidence there could br of such a thing."
"I had occasion to go to the county that autumn, just at at the height of it all," Sir Geoffrey went on, caressing an ashtray with the tip of his cigar. "I'd at last got a grip on myself and begun to accept invitations again. A fellow I'd known in Alexandria, a a commercial agent who'd done spectacularly well for himself, asked me up for the shooting ..."Continues...
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Meet the Author
John Crowley lives in the hills of northern Massachusetts with his wife and twin daughters. He is the author of ten previous novels as well as the short fiction collection, Novelties & Souvenirs.
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