Friday, August 2, 2013

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 101: Katherine Anne Porter, The Charmed Life (#24)

Katherine Anne Porter, "The Charmed Life" (1942/1952) from Katherine Anne Porter: Collected Stories and Other Writings:

"The Charmed Life" is a portrait of "the Old Man," a freelance archaeologist who lives in Mexico and sells what he digs up. He's by turns described as authentic; eccentric; living an uncomplicated and whole life; completely free of family; and having a family who lives in America and visits him every few years to make sure he is doing ok. So, yeah, in five short pages the narrator of this piece gets one "sentimental" view of the Old Man and then learns what fits and doesn't. Curiously, by the end, though he has morphed from "Old Man" to "Wild Man," the final pronouncement is that he lived a charmed life and was impervious to danger.

Curiously, this character sketch is actually based on a real person, the eccentric archaeologist William Niven. Which makes the story a little crazier as a historical piece. Wait, did he really have a collection of letters that would prove to be political dynamite?

Otherwise, the abstracted and nutty professor portrait reminds me most of Willa Cather's portrait of Stephen Crane. Nice to see that this treatment isn't restricted to artists.

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