Book Review: An Experiment in Misery (and other stories)

An Experiment in Misery (and other stories)
Crane, Stephen
Harper Perennial, 2009

Picked up on the basis of price and name at Elliott Bay’s bargain section (I know a Steven Crane and figured I would pass it on to him after I was done with it), this was my first encounter with Stephen Crane since having read _Red Badge of Courage_ in school, and I was unaware that he had a body of short stories as well. This mini-anthology of those works was a good introduction into the other directions he took.

Unfortunately, he was very much a writer of his times, and the lead story “The Monster” is overshadowed by the racism of the environment he wrote in. With some effort it is possible to see past that and appreciate what otherwise is a cutting depiction of how quickly true heroes are reduced to ridicule once their moment of heroism is past. In this case, a young man rushes in to a burning house to save a doctor’s son, and is himself badly burned. The doctor does his utmost to save him, and while he does save his life he is unable to recover the man’s face. The local society, however, is unable to accept the altered man’s appearance and he becomes a social outcast, as does the doctor for his efforts to to save him.

The other stories, while being of their times, are much more palatable to modern audiences. Dealing with action and adventure, unblessed romances, and the Wild West, these stories probe deep into the specter of “everyday occurrences” in various settings and are written in such a way that the reader is pulled in quickly and very much becomes part of the story.

I bought the book with the intent to pass it along, and had it not included “The Monster” I would have loved to do so – but with it there I am not comfortable with the message that could potentially be taken by the recipient.

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