Thursday, March 29, 2018

"Hunting the Deceitful Turkey" (1906)

Read story by Mark Twain online.

This Mark Twain piece is probably too short and yet discursive to be properly considered a narrative, but those are also the qualities that make it fun to read. At three pages (seven paragraphs) it's more like a quick snapshot reminiscence, or perhaps a tirade. What's best about it I think is how funny it is, as intended. The narrator has a grudge against turkeys. He's not shy about it. He seethes and is unrelenting in his condemnation, out of all proportion. One of Twain's best tricks is exactly this, adopting the tone and telling the little stories, while slipping in obvious but unexpected exaggerations. So the turkey hunt lasts from dawn until after dark, with the bird cleverly playing him, forever eluding him by inches. At one point the narrator tries to explain why he doesn't just shoot it, but it makes no sense, again out of all proportion with everything else: "I never did it, although it was my right, for I did not believe I could hit her; and besides, she always stopped and posed, when I raised the gun, and this made me suspicious that she knew about me and my marksmanship, and so I did not care to expose myself to her remarks." Twain was 71 when he wrote this piece and it has the easy-rolling tenor of a natural storyteller. Knowing Twain's fiction and travel writing I'm already predisposed to like anything by him that comes my way, though it's hard to guess what someone would make of him if this were the first they read by him. It's so short, and really silly—something that can be read in 15 minutes or less. But it made me laugh. Figuring out the trick the turkey was playing and how it worked. Then that the whole thing goes on so long. And all of his conclusions and suppositions about guns, food, hunters and hunting, and turkeys, enlarging upon them with an air of moral certainty, yet never quite seeming connected to reality. Somehow it comes out funny. I think it's the aggrieved voice, created from certain American characters that are still not hard to recognize today. I hear one of my uncles in this.

Library of America Story of the Week (Library of America)

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