Road Signs on the Treadmill Toward Tomorrow
These are stories of odd delusions, wry fantasms, terrifying glimpses of where we're going, individually and as a species... stories that sound a cautionary note about the foolhardiness of Humanity tinkering with a Universe that, up till now at least, has been content to let us survive here on this infinitesimal dust-mote... as long as we don't get too smart for our own good.
This book is out of print. Langerhans info page | Webderland review by P.P. O'Sullivan | Review by Joachim Boaz with a Harlan comment
"Paulie Charmed the Sleeping Woman"
[The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, August 1962]
"Paulie Charmed the Sleeping Woman" is a very short story. In its original magazine publication, it takes up just a little more than three pages. In a certain sense, it is also a simple story. The entire plot is telegraphed in the story's opening words.
"She'll be listening, Paulie, you can bet on that," I said to him, touching him lightly on the shoulder. "She ain't dead, Paulie, nobody like her could ever really die."
When we find out a few lines later that Paulie is a great jazz musician, the events of the rest of the story seem obvious. Given the title of the story, the fact that you're reading it in a fantasy magazine, and the familiarity of the Orpheus theme in literature, is there any doubt about what's going to happen?
But it doesn't matter. It's not the story, but the way in which it is told.
"Paulie Charmed the Sleeping Woman" manages the difficult trick of combining informal language, appropriate for the jazzman narrator, with pure poetry. Consider the description of the way that Paulie plays.
It was like a million black birds with white wings sailing into the night sky. Like a sheet of coolness being drawn down over a fire.
Simple words which create vivid images.
Perhaps what I most admire about "Paulie Charmed the Sleeping Woman" is the way in which it avoids the problem of describing a climax which the reader has already anticipated in her mind. Instead of long paragraphs about the resurrection of Paulie's dead lover, the narrator leaves it to our imagination, and the scene shifts with these simple words:
Later, we got Paulie back over the fence, and into the car.
That one word "later" carries much of the impact of the story. Only a writer of great skill can tell us a story where we know exactly what is going to happen, and then dare to pull away from the inevitable conclusion, without a feeling of disappointment in the reader. "Paulie Charmed the Sleeping Woman" is an expertly constructed story of great beauty.