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.
About 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.
Read an Excerpt
Novelties & Souvenirs
Collected Short Fiction
"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 ..."Novelties & Souvenirs
Collected Short Fiction. Copyright © by John Crowley. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Table of Contents
|Her Bounty to the Dead||12|
|The Reason for the Visit||24|
|The Green Child||32|
|The Nightingale Sings at Night||80|
|Great Work of Time||114|
|Lost and Abandoned||294|
|An Earthly Mother Sits and Sings||319|
|The War Between the Objects and the Subjects||333|
Reading Group Guide
John Crowley's Novelties & Souvenirs: Collected Short Fiction brings together fifteen stories and novellas written over a span of twenty-five years, and offers readers a astonishing range of fictive experiences. From an "inconstancy plague" spread by mummified Egyptian cats to a visit from beyond the grave by Virginia Woolf, anything can happen in a Crowley story. What will happen, how it will happen, and what it may mean are questions the stories -- and often the stories within those stories -- explore with tremendous intellectual and formal dexterity.
Reality in these stories is a malleable substance. In "Great Work of Time," the ability to travel back in time to alter the course of future events is only the first of the fantastic possibilities the story entertains. In "Missolonghi 1824," an English lord and poet recalls an encounter with a wild man who seems to be a representative of Homer's bronze-age Greece. In "The Green Child," a pair of fairy children appear at a place called the "Wolf-pits" and one of them goes on to marry and -- possibly -- have children with an ordinary man. The narrator reassures us that, "If there were children, and children of those children, so that in some way that green land elsewhere ... entered our plain human race, it must surely be so diluted now, so bound up and drowned in daylight and red blood, as not to be present in us at all." And yet one wonders. In "Snow," a recording device called a "wasp" follows a woman through her life and stores 8,000 hours worth of footage. But when her husband searches it after her death, he is confronted with the limits of technology, and of memory itself. "The Nightingale Sings at Night" offers a wonderfully inventive creation myth, in which we learn why the Nightingale has come to sing at night and in which the Moon reveals the essence of what it means to be human and mortal.
In these and in the other stories of Novelties & Souvenirs, and in writing that is richly metaphoric, wildly inventive, and always engaging, John Crowley takes readers on journeys that they would never have planned for themselves, and will likely never forget.
Questions for Discussion
- Why has John Crowley titled the collection, Novelties & Souvenirs? In what ways are the stories novel? In what sense might they be seen as souvenirs?
- In what ways do the stories in Novelties & Souvenirs bend the rules of reality? Are the strange phenomena Crowley writes about -- time travel, fairies, a "plague of inconstancy" caused by mummified Egyptian cats, a race of obsequious house-servant robots, etc. -- completely implausible? How does Crowley make them seem real?
- What origins does "The Nightingale Sings at Night" explain? How is it similar to and different from the Biblical story of Eden?
- "Snow" describes a device that can record and store 8,000 hours of one's life. If such a device really existed, would you want to record your life? Would you want to be able to view the life of a loved one after his or her death? Why or why not?
- The writer in "Novelty" has only one subject: "the idea of a notion or a holy thing growing clear in the stream of time, being made manifest in unexpected ways to an assortment of people" [p. 43]. In what ways do nearly all the stories in the collection involve time, and things "growing clear in the stream of time"? How do past, present, and future get jumbled in Novelties & Souvenirs?
- Near the beginning of "Great Work of Time," Sir Geoffrey says that "we ruminate endlessly, if, what if, if only ... The world seems always somehow malleable to our minds, or to our imaginations anyway" [p. 130]. In what ways does that statement turn out to be true, or not true, in the story? In what ways do the stories themselves treat the world as malleable to the imagination?
- In "Gone," the narrator describes the Elmers as "sinking and melting like ... snowmen ... shriveling into a sort of dry flocked matter and then into nearly nothing at all, like cotton candy in the mouth" [p. 305]. What does this kind of highly metaphoric writing add to the stories? How does it help you grasp what Crowley is describing? Where else do such metaphors appear in Novelties & Souvenirs?
- At the end of "An Earthly Mother Sits and Sings," when Ineen Fitzgerald sees the stranger who had visited her returning to the sea, "she knew whom she had had in her. She had known all along, but now she knew to see and to think: to think what would come of this, now and in the months and years to come" [p. 332]. Who is he? What will be the result of their union?
- Why is Lord Byron in "Missolonghi 1824,", so affected by the capture of the wild man? Why does he free him? What does this Greek who appears to have arrived from t he world of Homer represent for the British poet?
- In what ways do the stories in Novelties & Souvenirs differ from most short-story collections? How are they unlike realistic fiction? What similarities and differences did you notice between the stories in the collection? What distinctive qualities might identify them as Crowley stories?
About the author
John Crowley lives in the hills above the Connecticut River in northern Massachusetts with his wife and twin daughters. He is the author of Daemonomania; Love & Sleep; Little, Big; and, most recently, The Translator.