I’m glad you had the same thoughts about this story as I did. Honestly, I was a bit disappointed reading this, having the other M.R. James stories I read in mind. It’s anti-climactic and not working in the use of character focuses. I also think the story was too short to introduce and form the side characters well, who are now a bit out of the blue. You asked what readers thought was good about the story, but I don’t know, other than the already mentioned pretty humoristic chattering of the Anstruthers and the writing style of M.R. James. As a writer one of the few traps I never fall into is the leaving out of real consequences of the characters’ actions. (It’s one of the errors that really stands out when rereading your story, so I don’t think James reread this story very well.) Putting the scary or thrilling parts at the right moments and in the right focus is something else: I often find it difficult when to hint instead of put something in full light (or vice versa) or not to wait too long to give the reader a well-deserved thrill (the reverse of what James does here). I think that’s the craft lesson for me here: paying more attention at timing and focus of the thrilling/scary parts.
First of all I have been waiting for I think more than an year to start with Peace, after I finished Fifth Head, I haven't read Wolfe at all, and I am so much excited to start another Wolfe novel with you guys. I am going to give my first impression of the pages I read, without listening to your first podcast of peace, because it will help me then to brainstorm your ideas with mine. First thing which I noticed when I started with the first chapter was, how the One is written at the above Alden Dennis Weer, it's like someone with a shaky hand has written that, or someone has written this with some object, which has no sharpness at all. Also the first chapter starts with falling of an elm tree, and elm trees signify new beginnings, and so they are generally found in the college campuses, that what I got from the web regarding the significance of an elm tree. Our narrator if we can say his name to be Alden which means an old friend, does not hear this crash of an old tree, but sees it has fallen in the morning, also he does not have any electricity in his house, but uses candles for light, and he seems to at ease in dark, because, he tells us that he lights those candles as little as possible. The other interesting thing which he tells us is that he was first sitting up in his bed, and then he became awake after sometime, I find that rather odd, because he starts hearing things only when he became awake. Then he goes on a big monologue regarding his ax, which he uses to chop some branches of that elm tree, dos the action of chopping an elm signify something ? Also he seems to be living alone in the house, and he thinks that its better to be alone. He doesn't seem to be going out much because he tells us that his heart will develop a condition and he will die from it, also at the start he thinks he has woken up due to an heart attack, but afterwards we realize he's not got any problem whatsoever with his heart, but he has vision or dream where he is dying due to the heart condition. The sentence regarding doctors can be interpreted in many ways, he says that doctors they may be consulted even though dead, so does this mean that he thinks himself to be dead ? or can he see dead people like Dr. Black, whom he consulted as a boy. People generally are afraid to go to doctors but he seems excited with the fact that he will be visiting a doctor. Another significant detail is the doors of the building as well as that of elevator are made out of bronze, and I think bronze doors signify the gates to paradise. This whole part where he meets the doctor is so strange, because not only he recognizes all the patients, but the doctor has Life of Czar playing in his waiting room, I find hard to exactly mention a date as to when this story exactly takes place, is taking place at in the midst of 19th century or is it taking place during the end of 18th century. Even though he recognizes all the patients but none of them recognize him, we also have a strange thing happening where we have Margaret Lorn, throwing the Life magazine, and straight way walking into the doctor's office, Sherry gold seems to be pregnant, and then who is Mrs Price ? The other thing is our narrator is constantly comparing his age with others, and when Alden's turn comes he says strange thing to the doctor I am living at a time when he and all the rest are dead . I tried reading this multiple times, but just could not wrap my head around the meaning of it. Alden's gives a wrong age to the doctor, and when the doctor tells him his actual age, he falls into his memory and starts telling us about his birthday when he was five. The environment I can imagine seems to be from 18th century, where we have children arriving to his birthday, in old looking cars, he really relishes this memory, and contrasting to the death like winter in his present, it seems to a true spring in his childhood during his birthday. The big white house, which he mentions seems like a chapel to me, where he seems to be living with his mother, father and the cook Hannah. His aunt Olivia whose literal meaning of the name is peace, have all come to his birthday, and they seem to be having a party in in the backside of the chapel. He also sees his grand mother's ghost at his birthday party, who tells him things about Barbara Black, now these two sisters namely Barbara Black and Elanor Bold are an interesting lot, because the elm tree which has fallen was planted by Elanor, and Barbara is the wife of Dr Black, and they have a son called as Bobby Black, who seems to be bullying Alden. We also a lot of rumors circulating for Elanor Bold, namely due to the fact that she is more beautiful and athletic. We are informed that they have a Methodist Church meeting which some of these women are part of. The house has three floors, and on the last floor of the house, in one of the rooms, we have a painting of Joe, who is the had been an uncle of Joe, but unfortunately seems to have a died at the age of four. Alden then keeps going on regarding how this room is now used to store apples, and the background of picture interests him more, during his childhood he thinks it is from from children's fairy tale, but afterwards recognizes it to be a Tuscan garden. He goes on to say that the fictitious garden is the real paradise, and even gives us Dante's Paradiso. I found Hannah to be an interesting character in this chapter, because Alden can actually hear her thoughts, and knows all about her. When he comes back to present we have the doctor lecturing him about how he can treat something which he doesn't have, so it means that he hasn't had his stroke yet, also I find pinpointing his age a bit difficult. Well these are some of my thoughts, I know I haven't scratched the surface yet, but with Wolfe books, you can never got one answer, we all draw our own conclusions, and may be all are right. Going to dig into the pod next.