Monday, November 11, 2013

"Young Goodman Brown and Other Short Stories" by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Taken from many sources, this collection of stories provides an introduction to the sometimes surprising genre writings of Nathaniel Hawthorne, best known as the author of "The Scarlet Letter," the arch-enemy book of my high school years.

"Dr. Heidegger's Experiment" reads like notes for a longer science fiction work that never came to fruition. Four elderly people gather at a scientist's home to sample something that might change their lives. There is very little characterization, despite some detailed introductions, and the story plays out unsatisfactorily.

"The Birthmark" reads better, a story about scientist Aylmer's efforts to rid his wife Georgianna of a birthmark on her cheek. Hawthorne is very visual here, and while the dialogue is melodramatic, I could imagine everything he wrote. The author is making a comment about science, and how new discoveries blind the scientist to the bigger picture.

Aside from the obvious metaphor of "Young Goodman Brown" (his name is Goodman, and he's a GOOD MAN), this tale of a young husband trekking into the dark woods to attend a meeting of a coven of witches, made up of the godly folk of his village, is pure paranoid horror. This tale has been copied many times, but it is quite effective and creepy.

"Rappaccini's Daughter" is a densely worded tale of a young man falling for a beautiful woman who is literally poison to those around her. It is high melodrama, and contains an odd prologue that isn't essential to the story, but all in all, it is still good.

My favorite tale of the collection has to be "Roger Malvin's Burial." The story of two wounded soldiers in the wilderness, and one dying from his injuries, spans a few years. You may begin to figure out what happens to the survivor, but the climax is both emotional and heartbreaking. A great story.

"The Artist of the Beautiful" is a well-written but meandering tale about a watchmaker's life-long project. He gives up and is re-inspired one too many times, but Hawthorne says a lot about artists and their work.

The suspense built in "My Kinsman, Major Molineux" isn't menacing, but still interesting. A young country boy scours a large city looking for his benefactor, and eventually finds him. I really enjoyed this story, too.

I hated "The Scarlet Letter," having read it in high school. I didn't read any Hawthorne again until "Young Goodman Brown and Other Short Stories," and now think I might have to pick up his famous novel again...after I go through a few other books in my library. I do recommend this collection, however. (* * * *) out of five stars.