Monday, April 21, 2008

Reader's Diary #349- Roald Dahl: The Way Up To Heaven

Short Story Monday

No, I'm not trying to sway the Great Wednesday Compare results. I picked a Dahl story this week because his "The Way Up To Heaven" is this month's pick over at A Curious Singularity.

Most people who mention Dahl usually refer to memories of his children's books. I think a teacher read Willa Wonka and the Chocolate Factory to me at one point, and I saw the movie version of James and the Giant Peach. But for reading Dahl myself, the only thing I recollect is "Lamb To The Slaughter." I read it in junior high and it quickly became one of my favourites.

Like "Lamb to the Slaughter," "The Way Up To Heaven" is also on the dark side. Revolving around a woman who is has obsessive issues with tardiness, and a husband who may or may not like to goad her about it, it begins as a portrait of a slightly dysfunctional, but very believable, couple.

What I found most impressive was how Dahl made me feel Mrs. Foster's stress over getting to the airport on time. Since having kids my punctuality leaves something to be desired, but I don't often worry about it. So how did Dahl manage to make me empathetic for this woman? It wasn't that I related and it wasn't that she was a particularly nice character (I found her slightly annoying). I think Dahl was able to instill my feelings, by trading one tension for another.

Her husband, Eugene Foster, was said to have a timing "so accurate-- just a minute or two late, you understand-- and [a] manner so bland that it was hard to believe he wasn't purposefully inflicting a nasty private little torture of his own on the unhappy lady." The undercurrent of resentment between the two characters, combined with the ambiguity of whether or not the husband was purposefully exacerbating his wife's condition, put me on edge so much that feeling Mrs. Foster's stress about getting out on time seemed natural.

I am a little confused about the title however. I'm not sure if it's meant to be ironic or not. Nor am I clear as to whom was supposed to be on their way. In any case, the story itself was great even if the title was not.

Cross posted at The Short Story Reading Challenge and A Curious Singularity.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

What a delicous story!

And I think the title was meant to be both ironic and straightforward, depending upon whom it was referring.

Bybee said...

Cool! Thanks for the spotlight on Dahl as a writer for adults. I know he wrote all those terrific children's books, but I get tired as hell of just hearing about that.

Allison said...

Oh, thanks for the link I will most certainly check that out.

The museum I start work in next week houses most of Dahl's original manuscripts.