Hearts at Work

A Column by Jim Tipton



Franz-KafkaIn our time, few people, even educated ones, read short stories, because the old human need for stories is now satisfied by what we used to quaintly call “moving pictures”—abbreviated now to “movies.” Most people might be hard pressed to even remember ten short stories they have read over the years. But, the form still has its devotees and some of those might be able to list dozens of short stories in the same way that even the common person on the street can list dozens of movies.

Stories that have left a lasting impression on me include W. Somerset Maugham’s tale “Rain,” set in a very wet South Seas paradise; Ernest Hemingway’s “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” which covers the last two days in the life of a wealthy American on safari with his predatory wife; and Guy de Maupassant’s sad story about a lovely young lady born into a family of clerks but who longs to live in the fabulous world of the rich.

Several of our authors at Lakeside have written stories that stay with you. Here are two examples: Alejandro Grattan has crafted a powerful story, “The Gunfight at the El Paso Corral,” about some retired “bad men” living out their final days in poverty and poor health in El Paso, Texas in 1906; and Robert Bruce Drynan in “Quatsch” tells a moving story about a young American soldier stationed in Germany some years after the World War II who falls in love with the daughter of a former German soldier.

For many people, the one story they remember is Franz Kafka’s “Metamorphosis,” and this year—2015—marks the 100th anniversary of the initial publication (in German, with the title “Die Verwandlung”). It is a strange and haunting account of Gregor Samsa, a traveling salesman and a very ordinary man, who wakes up one morning to discover he has been transformed into a giant cockroach. His initial worry is that he did not hear his alarm and now will be late for work. Over the weeks that follow, confined to his tiny and eventually cluttered room, he begins to experience almost insufferable loneliness. Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” helped to usher in the increasing terror that lurked just below the surface of the modern mind, caused by the realization that life has no meaning, that all is absurd, and that ridiculous things will happen to us for no apparent reason—and we will have no control over them.

There have been many short film versions of this story as well as stage adaptations and at least one opera and one musical. And of course there undoubtedly have been numerous literary take-offs.

Bruce Holland Rogers was a featured presenter at The Lake Chapala Writers Conference two years ago. His award-winning story “Don Ysidro,” set in a little village in Mexico, was published in El Ojo del Lago. Rogers found Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” compelling enough to compose his own version. The Kafka story begins: “One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin.” The Rogers story, “A Story for Discussion,” begins this way, “When the author awoke from troubled dreams one morning, he found that he had been transformed in his bed into an enormous abstraction.” He could find “no sign of the body that he’d gone to sleep in.” This is included in Roger’s collection, The Keyhole Opera (2005). Kafka’s character woke up as a giant cockroach. Rogers character “the author,” woke up as an “enormous abstraction.”

As you wake up tomorrow morning, imagine that a strange transformation has taken place during the night. What will you wake up as….?


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