1. "The Old Neighborhood"
Sort of the Rabbit, Run of the collection, this is the story of a man looking back on his dissatisfaction with his suburban middle-class family life. Several times the narrator claims that he is there to “dream over the older, the better, the first days” of his life, but he mostly laments getting hitched before he was ready, watching the birth of each child steal away his wife’s beauty and being generally restless while dreaming of bigger, better things. Of course, the narrator is only looking back on this part of his life after leaving that family to start another one — the one he always dreamed of! (Asshole.)
2. “The Shadow”
A love story straight out of film noir: Our narrator, Gil, becomes convinced his wife is cheating on him after seeing her in a car with another man. Gil doesn’t want to believe it, but he can’t get the moment out of his head, and he’s sure it was his wife because he recognized her signature outfit: a hat with a bunch of bright green grapes on the side paired with a green-and-white striped coat. The lesson might be to not wear something ridiculously flashy while fooling around, but the story’s real treat is the wife’s perspective.
3. “The Doer of the World”
This story begins in the small town of Noank, Connecticut, a port that was once profitable for mackerel and cod fishing — but this isn’t really a fisherman’s tale. Instead, it revolves around the legendary man of Noank: Charlie Potter, the town’s peculiar on-again-off-again preacher and full-time do-gooder. Word around town is that Charlie doesn’t care much for money, that he’s given the boots off his feet to the town drunk and that he cooks for the poor and serves them personally. The narrator sets out to see for himself whether Charlie is as selfless, big-hearted and true to his word as people say he is — but, mostly, the narrator just wants to see whether someone like Charlie could possibly exist.
4. “The Lost Phoebe”
This short story is reminiscent of Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily,” without quite the same creep factor — not to downplay Dreiser’s main character, Henry, and his hallucinations. The story starts by introducing old Henry Reifsneider and his wife Phoebe as a couple who lived the simple life out in the country. But things suddenly become more interesting after Phoebe’s death, when Henry is left to cope.
5. “Marriage — for One”
First off, this may be the worst title of all time — but it gets better, as the story begins: “Whenever I think of love and marriage I think of Wray. That clerky figure. That clerky mind.” (Married with Children theme song, anyone?) Surprisingly, those aren’t the words of a wife about her husband, but the perspective of a friend on his bromance with Wray, whose marriage (like the narrator’s) hasn’t exactly worked out.
The narrator scorns women who do “not help a serious man to succeed” and praises girls who “embody nearly all the virtues or qualities which he thought necessary,” making the short story about as entertaining as a ‘50s book on etiquette — that is, amusing in its boneheadedness but in equal parts infuriating.
The Best Short Stories of Theodore Dreiser includes 14 stories for you to read, review and poke fun at — because, if anything, the collection makes us thankful to live in a time that has distanced itself from awful stereotypes and even worse story titles. Thanks for the perspective, Theodore.
And if that isn’t enough for you, check out Clementine Classics: Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser, a version of Dreiser’s novel annotated with the snarky insights of Tumblr literary critic of note, Clementine the Hedgehog.
Freddie Moore is a Brooklyn-based writer. Her full name is Winifred, and her writing has appeared in unFold, The Leaf Unturned and Italics Mine. As a former co-president of SUNY Purchase’s Cheese Club, she’s a big-time foodie who knows her cheese.
This coverage of Dreiser’s short stories is brought to you by Clementine Classics: Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser, the first installment in the Clementine Classics e-book series from Black Balloon Publishing.
Sometimes reading the classics is a chore, but not so with the snarky annotations by Clementine the Hedgehog. Having made her debut as a weekly book reviewer of note on Tumblr in 2012, Clem now takes on Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser. On each page, she inserts her keen insights, dark sense of humor and cut-the-crap commentary.
Clementine Classics is a new series from Black Balloon Publishing that gives classic works of literature the contemporary annotations they deserve. Obsessed, possessed and thoroughly distressed by the originals, today's writers riff, rant, praise and flay these old books, giving them new life. The series' beautifully designed e-books are both an act of sincere literary criticism and a new, composite form of humor writing.
KEEP READING: More Literature
- Clementine Classic: Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser
- 22 Out-of-Print J.D. Salinger Stories You Can Still Read Online
- Are Kids Still Reading, Love & Hating the Classics in English Class?