Title: The Sculptor’s Funeral by Willa Cather
Date Read: 21 February 2009
Available Online?: YES (as one of the stories posted by Harper Perennial on their website Fifty-Two Stories, which promises a new (or classic) short story from their collection, posted every week throughout 2009)
Briefly: The body of Harvey Merrick, a sculptor of renowned status, is returned to the family home in a small mid-western town following his untimely death. His parents seem overcome with sorrow but their treatment of the maid, and the revelation made by the ‘watchmen’ surrounding the coffin, that Harvey wasn’t particularly well treated before leaving for the east, reveals Harvey’s parents to be less than sincere with their emotions. The watchmen also discuss the life of town-nurtured corruption that Harvey had also managed to escape.
Afterthoughts: Although I’m sure many people would hail this story as one of the greatest ever written, I wasn’t particularly enamoured with it. Sure Cather’s prose is hugely poetic at times and a pleasure to read (as demonstrated in the quote below), but the story isn’t particularly enthralling, and seems more an exercise in exploring late eighteenth-century small town politics than anything else.
Notable Quote: “The night express shot, red as a rocket, from out the eastward marsh lands and wound along the river shore under the long lines of shivering poplars that sentinelled the meadows, the escaping steam hanging in grey masses against the pale sky and blotting out the Milky Way. In a moment the red glare from the headlight streamed up the snow-covered track before the siding and glittered on the wet, black rails. The burly man with the dishevelled red beard walked swiftly up the platform toward the approaching train, uncovering his head as he went.”
*Story read as part of my 100 Shots of Short reading challenge.