Selected Shorts: Compulsions

Guest host John Lithgow introduces two stories about compulsion. 

W.W. Jacobs “The Monkey’s Paw” has been keeping readers up at night since it was first published in 1902.  The tale of a sinister relic brought from the mysterious East to a cozy suburban bungalow may have some period touches, but is every bit as gripping as it was for its original audience.  Host John Lithgow is also the reader, and says he remembers his father reading him the story when he was nine years old, “my first introduction to the exquisite pleasure of being absolutely terrified!”

William Wymark Jacobs was a prolific short fiction writer whose collections of stories reflect his childhood on the River Thames.  They include Many Cargoes, The Skipper’s Wooing, and Sea Urchins, but it’s is this one Dickensian tale that has secured him a place in literary history.

The monkey’s paw was a malevolent, enchanted object, but sometimes words alone can cast a spell.  Our next story is Isabel Allende’s lyrical “Two Words.”   In it, a resourceful young woman born into a family too poor to name their children reinvents herself as a broker of words.  As her fame spreads, she attracts the attention of a guerilla leader who wants to reinvent himself.

This idea of storytelling as a way to make your way in the world is key for Allende, SHORTS literary commentator Hannah Tinti notes.  It was the subject of her first novel, Eva Luna, published in 1987.  And her next book, The Stories of Eva Luna, models itself on the classic Scheherazade legend.  It features Eva Luna telling a group of tales to her lover in bed.  “Two Words” is the first of those stories.  It’s read by the author and actor Lisa Fugard, daughter of playwright Athol.

“The Monkey’s Paw,” by W.W. Jacobs, performed by John Lithgow

“Two Words,” by Isabel Allende, performed by Lisa Fugard

The SELECTED SHORTS theme is David Peterson's “That's the Deal,” performed by the Deardorf/Peterson Group.

For additional works featured on SELECTED SHORTS, please visit

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And for more thoughts on the stories in SHORTS, check out literary commentator Hannah Tinti’s site at

Announcing the 2013 Stella Kupferberg Memorial Short Story Prize.  Check this link for details.