Alright lads, today I’m making good on the first of my writing resolutions for the year: to read thirty short stories in thirty days, and post here after each one. I’m reading primarily to help my writing and specifically my short stories, but I imagine there will be other benefits, too: vocabulary, the chance to observe craft and technique, and of course, the oh-so-Portlandian distinguishment of being better-read among them.
In each post I’ll include a general overview of the story, new words I picked up, favorite lines/an excerpt, and observations as far as writing technique/storycraft. And of course I will link to the story itself whenever possible!
Enjoy, and Happy New Year!
“The Saucier’s Apprentice” by S.J. Perelman
Today’s selection comes from an anthology titled Americans in Paris, compiled by Adam Gopnik. You can read an excerpt of The Saucier’s Apprentice here.
“I am not overly intuitive, but I have learned that when sub-inspectors of the Sûreté with dickty fashion magazines protruding from their pockets invite one to share an aperitif, curious stories ofttimes unfold, and so it proved.”
Synopsis: “The Saucier’s Apprentice” is the story of mysterious sabotage inside the famed Parisian restaurant Maxim’s. Inspector Marcel Riboflavin relays all to a nameless narrator over drinks: the pride, the care, the secrecy, the almost sacredness with which the French (particularly Maxim’s sauciers) prepare their delicacies; disturbing developments in Maxim’s dining experiences of late (one dissatisfied customer haughtily suggested that the sauce in his dessert would be more suitable for caulking a boat); finally, how he solved the case and uncovered the startling truth.
Favorite Line: “In France,” Marcel said with wintry dignity, “accidents occur in the bedroom, not the kitchen.”
Observations: This was one of those elusive story-within-a-story types. I found the presentation (one friend telling another what happened in past tense) intriguing and amusing and yet I wonder if it diminished the story by making it less immediate. If the same story had been told first person, through the Inspector’s eyes, I think it would have been radically different. But would it have been better? I can’t say. It probably would have ended up being longer, had it been first person; and in the interest of a short story, brevity is probably key (at least these days, if you want a shot at publication!).
The narrator was well-spoken and humorous, but not much more than a medium. I’m not sure if I like that. I think I need to read other stories like this to observe more.
One thing I loved about this story was the language. I have a host of a new words here, including some lovely French expressions (which, as a Francophone, I duly appreciate):
vagary: an unexpected and inexplicable change in a situation or in someone’s behavior
disabuse: to persuade someone that an idea or belief is mistaken
prognosticate: foretell; prophesize
perfidious: deceitful; untrustworthy
histrionic: overly theatrical/dramatic
epicurean: having luxurious taste/excessive indulgence, especially in food and drink
pullulating: swarming, teeming, sprouting with ~
nadir: the lowest point (in fortune, despair); the point on a celestial sphere directly below an observer
depredation: attack or robbery
ribald: referring to sexual matters in amusingly rude way
badinage: humorous conversation
owlish: resembling an owl; appearing wise or solemn
hurly burly: a disturbance
coup de main: a sudden surprise attack, esp. during war
anisette: a liqueur flavored with aniseed
aperitif: a pre-dinner drink
haute couture: “haute” means “high”; “couture” means “seam”; together they refer to high fashion
Another story tomorrow!~