I'd had a pretty good run with my recent selection of short stories until I hit upon this sorely disappointing book by O.Henry, the grandfather of the American short story. His pieces were extremely popular back in his time (late 1800s, early 1900s), and they continue to get rave reviews today. However, I am not a member of his fan club and won't be joining anytime soon. I struggled and struggled with this book, seeking a way in, trying the first fifty pages and then picking random stories throughout the book, but I was let down every time.
Take "The Gift of the Magi' for example. This is the leading story and is widely cited as one of his best pieces. Here is the opening paragraph:
"One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one's cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty- seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas."
This is not what I call a good start. The stories are packed with so many American turns of phrase (or perhaps these were original wordplays from O.Henry) that I was left constantly confused and baffled. Why I bought the book without reading some of his work on-line is another puzzle. On the upside, at least the book cost a mere £1.99 and it can now be passed on to someone who may be a bit more appreciative.