cover image Samuel Beckett: The Complete Short Prose, 1929-1989

Samuel Beckett: The Complete Short Prose, 1929-1989

S. E. Gontarski / Editor, Samuel Beckett / Author Grove/Atlant

In counterpoint to Beckett's plays, novels and poems is the equally brilliant shorter prose--the stories, soliloquies and depersonalized monologues he wrote throughout his career. Here, collected and edited by the editor of On Beckett: Essays and Criticism, are all three-dozen instances of that prose, only some of which have appeared previously in books; one story, ``The Cliff,'' is debuting here. The earlier entries indicate Beckett's uneasy apprenticeship before he found his voice and a matching style. The Joycean logorrhea of ``Sedento and Quiescendo'' (later part of Dream of Fair to Middling Women) and the conventional narration of ``A Case in a Thousand'' don't achieve much in themselves. Still, as with ``Assumption,'' the earliest piece here, they display the stirrings of a genius that would take shape in the stories of 1946 and in Texts for Nothing, as in Waiting for Godot. Some of the stories--``The End''; ``The Expelled''; ``First Love''; ``The Calmative''--are acknowledged short masterpieces, meandering Cartesian misadventures of minds and bodies stumbling over one another. In later works, Beckett can be seen tracing the further patterns of a mind narrating its disintegration (the ``skull alone in a dark place''), as in ``Imagination Dead Imagine,'' ``Ping'' and a series of eight pieces called ``Fizzles.'' Elsewhere, in ``From an Abandoned Work'' and ``Enough,'' the author's wanderers are curtailed, his ``Lost Ones'' vainly searching a cylindrical prison for an exit, his aged narrators tramping through their memories. In the closing ``Stirrings Still,'' written at age 82, Beckett refines and intermingles these elements in a despairing, delightful voice that struggles with what its owner called its ``obligation to express.'' Despite some juvenilia and curiosa, this is an invaluable one-volume addition to the Beckett shelf. (Jan.)