If you let yourself be carried away with Joyce Harrington's "The Purple Shroud" it could be a chilling story indeed. I can't decide which pushed it over the edge for me when it comes to atmosphere--the ending or the cold calculatedness of the main character (most likely a mix of the two), who in this case is Mrs. Arlene Moon, artist and wife of an habitual philanderer.
Yet another new to me author, Joyce Harrington won an Edgar Award in 1973 for "The Purple Shroud" which also happened to be her very first short story, which she published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine the previous year. Harrington had a variety of jobs before turning to writing full time. She was an actress, a wife and mother, she worked for a photography magazine and later worked in public relations. During her career as a writer she was quite prolific publishing many short stories in several mystery magazines like EQMM. She also wrote three novels though none appear to be in print any longer.
"Retirement, along with greater fame as a short story writer, may be why Harrington's fiction work hasn't received the attention it deserves. She was primarily concerned with human behavior and the motives for sliding into nefarious deeds, with twists that disturbed in their quiet intensity. It's no wonder "The Purple Shroud" fared so well upon publication: its depiction of a toxic marriage and how a subjugated woman finds her way out still resonates today."
And that sums up beautifully how this week's story works out without giving away any plot twists. I won't give any of them away either. I will say, though, that the weaving Mrs. Moon so furiously had been working on in the beginning of the story was something of a curiosity to those she knew. When asked what it was she was weaving, she jokingly replied a shroud. Okay, maybe really it's just for draperies. It reminded me, however, of the shroud Penelope ceaselessly weaves when Ulysses is away.
Weaving her purple shroud, an unusual color for Mrs. Moon, is how she passes the time when away at a summer artists' colony where her husband George teaches painting. A competent artist, he excels at teaching where he molds and bullies his students into producing their best work. She herself teaches craft therapy at a home for the aged. And the summer artists colony is both work and relaxation for the two. Well, certainly for George anyway.
I won't go into just what George gets into on his summer holidays, or Arlene for that matter, so as not to ruin the story for you. But Harrington offers some wonderful imagery in the story. Like the spider in the room where Mrs. Moon works--she on her weaving and the spider on its web. And there are occasional moments of black humor, too.
If Vera Caspary's "Sugar and Spice" is my favorite story so far in this collection, Joyce Harrington's comes in a close second. Next up a story by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, who was heralded by Raymond Chandler. I've been looking forward to trying her work.
This week's New Yorker story (Feb. 17 & 24 issue) is "Come Together" by Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard (translated by Don Bartlett--who by the way has translated quite a lot of Scandinavian crime fiction). We were all children once, so why does childhood feel like such a distant land--so long ago and in my own mind almost entirely forgotten? Knausgaard's story is wonderfully evocative. Maybe I enjoyed it so much, even though we are separated by language, culture and sex--he writes about the period I was growing up, too, and I can see a lot of reality in the telling of it. The story is a moment in time of an adolescent boy dealing with the pains of growing up and falling in "love" for the first time.
Apparently Knausgaard has written a series of six books, autobiographical in nature though fictionalized, under the blanket title My Struggle. "Come Together" (Recognize the song title? Music is very important in the story) is adapted from the third book in the cycle My Struggle: Boyhood, which is forthcoming. Much like the Harrington story, this is one of my favorites so far from the New Yorker. I liked it so much that I have already ordered (can't find it in any local libraries) the first book, My Struggle: Book One.
There is an interesting Q&A with the author here. As this is a double issue this week, I'll have a chance to do a little catching up with other reading until the next issue comes out March 3.