Sunday, May 3, 2020

Those Are as Brothers

Nancy Hale (1908–1988)
From Where the Light Falls: Selected Stories of Nancy Hale

Detail from Strange Worlds, 1928, oil on canvas by American artist Todros Geller (1889–1949), a Ukrainian immigrant whose work often focused on the intersection of Jewish tradition with American life. See the full image at the Art Institute of Chicago website.
Five years ago, Lauren Groff’s “At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners” was selected for inclusion in the anthology 100 Years of The Best American Short Stories, edited by Lorrie Moore and Heidi Pitlor. The volume gathered forty works from the two thousand published during the previous century in the annual editions of The Best American Short Stories. After she received her copy of the book, Groff was reading through it and, she says, “I was stopped short by the wickedly smart Nancy Hale’s story, ‘Those Are as Brothers.’ That night, I went into the archives of The New Yorker, where Hale had published over one hundred short stories in her lifetime. . . . I became a convert.”

Three years later, when Library of America editors were contemplating the publication of an anthology of Hale’s stories, managing editor John Kulka, contacted Groff and, unaware of her late-night conversion as a Hale devotee, asked her if she might be interested in helping out with the volume. She immediately signed on as its editor, and the resulting collection, Where the Light Falls, appeared last fall to advance fanfare and considerable acclaim. The enthusiasm among book dealers was such that the first printing sold out before the publication date. Showcasing twenty-five of Hale’s nearly two hundred stories (ten of which won O. Henry Awards), the book finally brought a largely forgotten author back to the attention of the reading public.

In the introduction to Where the Light Falls, Groff wonders, “Over these months of living with Hale's voice in my head, I have asked myself over and over how we could have turned our eyes from her.” When interviewed for All Things Considered, Kulka was unable to pinpoint why Hale’s literary contribution had been neglected: “Did the stories fall out of favor? Did she lack a publisher who was willing to do enough for her? Or was it just that there wasn't at the time, the same kind of interest in literary fiction by women writers? It is hard to say, but I suspect it is some combination.”

When Hale’s name has appeared in print during the last thirty years, it is usually in passing reference to her blockbuster 1942 novel, The Prodigal Women (now out of print), or her much-lauded biography of the painter Mary Cassatt. In addition, “Those Are as Brothers”—the story that first caught Groff’s attention—will occasionally be found in lists of stories about the Holocaust. Published in May 1941, it is an early entry in that literature, written months before Hermann Göring ordered preparations for the “Final Solution”—before the already-lethal concentration camps truly became death camps. Hale’s story is set four thousand miles away from Germany, however, in a Connecticut suburb, where the memory of those camps haunts a Jewish refugee as he grapples with the challenges posed by his new life in America.

Note: The story’s title is taken from “Speech to Those Who Say Comrade,” a 1936 poem by Archibald MacLeish: “Those are as brothers whose bodies have shared fear / Or shared harm or shared hurt or indignity.”

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The long, clear American summer passed slowly, dreaming over the Connecticut valley and the sound square houses under the elms and the broad living fields and over the people there that came and went and lay and sat still, with purpose and without but free. . . . If you don't see the full selection below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

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