Writer Working’s last encounter with Sherwood Anderson was with his disappointing Dark Laughter. Dan encouraged me not to give up on him, however, and guided me to Death in the Woods and other stories. Some people, I guess, can write superb short stories, but can’t stretch out to longer works.
The Title story here is compelling and grisly, and unmerciful look at rural life in a savage and loveless family. Hemingway has nothing on Anderson when it comes to the short sentence, and that suits the stark description and narrative about a woman married into virtual slavery condemned to serve a family of male thieves, liars, and drunks:
She was an old woman and lived on a farm near the town in which I lived. All country and small-town people have seen such old women, but no one knows much about them. . . . [She] comes into town . . . and gets some salt pork and some beans. Then she gets a pound or two of sugar and some flour. Afterwards she goes to the butcher’s and asks for some dog meat.
She (never given a name0 performs her duties faithfully and mindlessly, with no hope of escape or reward, simply accepting her lot and the fate the title implies.
There’s plenty of humor here as well, as in his New Orleans tale about his notorious Aunt Sally and a friendly crippled drunk he runs across in “A Meeting South.” I enjoyed his meandering style, wherein he spends some time with a supposedly tangential character or event, only to suddenly “remember” that he was actually telling us about someone or something else, but having enlightened us on the detour.
As far as I’m concerned, Anderson has fully redeemed himself from the low opinion I’d formed from Dark Laughter. Just important to keep away from those novels.