A brief survey of the short story part 51: Sherwood Anderson

Chris Powers in The Guardian:

AndersonCertain locations belong to certain writers. Kafka stalks the streets of Prague; Fitzrovia pubs call Julian MacLaren-Ross to mind; Dublin, to the understandable frustration of its other writers, is Joyce. When I lived in the flat expanses of the American midwest I would drive through mile after mile of cornfields, a landscape that always made me think of Sherwood Anderson and his collection Winesburg, Ohio. Even as Anderson's once-great reputation plummeted, the book, published in 1919, continued to exert a pronounced effect on the American short story throughout the 20th century. His prose carries flavours of Whitman and Twain, and the distinctive, comma-rejecting rhythm of Gertrude Stein. Above them you detect those he influenced: the Hemingway of In Our Time, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty and Raymond Carver among many others. Sometimes he writes very badly, but when he writes well his discursive style envelops you completely, without fanfare.

Winesburg, Ohio is a story cycle set in a small town in the 1890s. Each story concentrates on a different “grotesque” who inhabits the town, people whose lives have become distorted through an inability to communicate. For Anderson these “grotesques” are not monsters to be feared, but creatures to be pitied and loved. Many of them feel compelled to explain themselves in some way to a young man called George Willard, the closest thing the book has to a hero. George matures over the course of the collection, and in the final story leaves Winesburg behind. The effect of the book is to cumulatively produce an atmosphere of uncomfortable but compelling intimacy. Throughout, hands appear as symbols of the desirability and difficulty of human contact, and it was hands that Edward Wilson Jr used to precisely describe the feeling of reading it: “We are at once disturbed and soothed by the feeling of hands thrust down among the deepest bowels of life – hands delicate but still pitiless in their exploration.”

More here.