Friday, April 20, 2007

A Great Writer: O. Henry

Last night I read a story by O. Henry before going to sleep. O. Henry is one of my favorite authors. I like his use of language best.

The story, titled “The Caballero’s Way” starts

The Cisco Kid had killed six men in more or less fair scrimmages, had murdered twice as many (mostly Mexicans), and had winged a larger number whom he modestly forebore to count. Therefore a woman loves him.
Now isn’t that just like it is real life? I don’t know why women always seem to go for the jerks but they do. Then they cry that there’s no nice guys around. They’re around. They’re the ones who can never get a date. They’re too nice.

Back to O. Henry. A Texas Ranger gets on the Kid’s trail. Where to find him? He looks up the Kid’s girlfriend. When he finds her,

The Cisco Kid was a vain person, as all eminent and successful assassins are, and his bosom would have been ruffled had he know that at a simple exchange of glances two persons, in whose minds he had been looming large, suddenly abandoned (at least for the time) all thought of him.
With an economy of words, and a whimsical turn of phrase, the writer gets his point across. Note how he advances the plot while also describing the differing feelings of three different people.

How does a writer go about describing a beautiful woman? How would you do so? Most of literature contains elaborate descriptions of the woman’s body, her complexion, her gentle manner, and so on. Here’s O. Henry:

As for Tonia, though she sends description to the poorhouse, let her make a millionaire of your fancy.
But back to the action. Twice a week the Ranger visits the girl, combining business with pleasure. No Cisco Kid.

Finally he shows up. But being careful, he sneaks up on the two and finds out that he’s become the third wheel on a two wheel cart.

Now you think you know the ending but you don’t? Too, bad. O. Henry was the master of the surprise ending. I won’t spoil it for you. I’ll leave you with

When the form of Sandridge had disappeared, loping his big dun down the steep banks of the Frio Crossing, the Kid crept back to his own horse, mounted him, and rode back along the tortuous trail he had come.
To find out the ending, go to the public library and check out his book. Here’s further info on O. Henry at Wikipedia.

If you’re like me and you’ve always wanted to add O. Henry to your personal library, I also left a link to here.
The Complete O. Henry