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Object Lessons

This anthology of short stories from The Paris Review – selected by 20 contemporary authors – includes some deeply pleasurable discoveries.

Object Lessons
By The Paris Review
368 pp.

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Until I read Object Lessons: The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story, I’d never heard of Jane Bowles, a sharp and witty mid-century writer whose output was hindered by alcoholism, mental illness, and a serious stroke at age 40. When Bowles died in 1973, at age 56, she had published only a short stack of fiction, and today, she is largely forgotten.

That’s too bad. One of Bowles’s seven short stories, “Emmy Moore’s Journal,” is reproduced in "Object Lessons," an anthology of stories originally published in The Paris Review, a journal that George Plimpton and some other American expatriates founded in 1953 as “a laboratory for new fiction.” Written shortly before Bowles’s death, the story describes the interior life of Moore, an insecure and possibly mentally ill woman who, for reasons that are unclear, has temporarily left her husband to stay in a lonely place called the Hotel Henry. I laughed at the character’s nonsensical but detailed ramblings even as I felt the urge to comfort her: “I am unusually feminine for an American of Anglo stock. (Born in Boston.) I am almost a ‘Turkish’ type. Not physically, at least not entirely, because though fat I have ruddy Scotch cheeks and my eyes are round and not slanted or almond-shaped. But sometimes I feel certain that I exude an atmosphere very similar to theirs (the Turkish women’s) and then I despise myself.”


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