Thursday, December 26, 2013

Dear Great Book Guru,  My friends and I are planning a small New Year’s Eve dinner  party here in Sea Cliff and we would like to add  a literary twist to the evening’s festivities. Can you think of anything that might fill the bill?  New Year’s Eve Literary Reveler

Dear Literary Reveler, What a great idea and I have a great, great suggestion: “THE DEAD” by James Joyce,  perhaps the finest short story ever written and it is set at a gala party celebrating the new year. The description of the delicious food and drink coupled with sparkling conversation and lilting music, all set in the home of two elderly sisters and their niece, makes for a delightful glimpse into life in Dublin one hundred years ago. But the story is so, so much more. We meet the courtly, self-absorbed Gabriel - the sisters' adored nephew- and his wife Gretta; the easily intimidated and intoxicated Freddy Malins; his tedious, complaining mother; Lily, a young servant girl; and a whole array of colorful partygoers. There is a feverishly familiar litany of past parties, achievements, slights, and political barbs but the story's climax comes shortly after the party ends. Gretta in a melancholy mood mentions a young boy from the countryside who had loved her. Her husband immediately becomes jealous and questions her fidelity only to find that the boy had died decades before . Michael Furey had despaired when Gretta left their village for boarding school, and came to her window on a brutally bitter night to bid her farewell; he died from the cold but the devotion he showed was still vividly alive for Gretta these many years later. Gabriel laments his own pettiness, his lack of passion in contrast to young Michael's. The story closes with Gabriel looking out as the snow covers Ireland, falling "upon all the living and the dead." A truly beautiful piece!

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