DEAL ME IN – WEEK 6
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Smokey Robinson once sang “…a taste of honey’s worse than none at all”. Based on her short story “Paul’s Case”, I would bet Willa Cather would have agreed – although, she would probably say a taste of “money” is worse than none at all. I read this story for Week 6 of Deal Me In 2015. My Deal Me In 2015 list can be seen here. Deal Me In 2015 is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.
I had several of Cather’s stories on my Deal Me In 2013 list. While I enjoyed some of them, others left me a little flat. Her stories that are set in Nebraska or the Southwest were beautiful and intriguing to me. In spite of my infatuation with New York City, her stories involving artists in the Big Apple at the turn of the twentieth century just didn’t grab hold of me.
In the case of “Paul’s Case”, though, Cather does something different with New York City. Paul, a teenager, lives in Pittsburgh and is somewhat of a delinquent at school. He loves serving as an usher at Carnegie Hall so that he can rub elbows with the rich and famous – both the patrons and the performers. His awe of the rich lifestyle contrasts with his contempt for his lower income neighborhood and school.
Cather simultaneously casts a small spark of sympathy for Paul’s situation (or “case” as the title suggests) and a repulsion for Paul’s attitude and character. By less than noble means, Paul manages to run away to New York City and live the high life – for a little while. As with many teenagers, Paul doesn’t realize that there is such a thing as a future and that his means will eventually run out:
It was characteristic that remorse did not occur to him. His golden days went by without a shadow, and he made each as perfect as he could.
Since I’m on an F. Scott Fitzgerald kick, I’ll bring up the fact that Maureen Corrigan, in So We Read On, indicates that Fitzgerald “adored” Willa Cather. Corrigan even goes on to say that some of the characters in The Great Gatsby were inspired by characters in Cather’s stories (Corrigan bases this on letters Fitzgerald wrote to Cather). Paul in “Paul’s Case” has some definite Jay Gatsby attributes; however, I would guess that Gatsby ultimately gets more reader sympathy than Paul does.