I think we’ll all agree that a collection of 45 short stories that represents 25 years of an author’s life merits an introduction. Unfortunately, I’m the only person I know who has the time or desire to write it so you’ll have to settle for my take on Keller—or better yet, just skip onto the stories themselves.
Until I was given four books of Dr. David H. Keller stories by Cedric Clute—I trust anyone reading this book knows Ced—I had never heard of the good doctor. The books were: LIFE EVERLASTING (1947), TALES FROM UNDERWOOD (1952), THE FOLSOM FLINT AND OTHER CURIOUS TALES (1969) and THE LAST MAGICIAN (1978). The book you’re holding has all of the short stories that were found in them.
First, let’s get all of the David Copperfield crap out of the way. David H. Keller was born in 1880, whizzed through school in five years (after an unusual start on the first day of first grade when it was found that he only spoke a private language that he and his older sister could understand), and became a medical doctor in 1903. He was at first a general practitioner but soon found himself working at psychiatric hospitals in New Jersey, Illinois, New Mexico and Louisiana. He also spent WWI in the Medical Corps.
All the while he was writing stories and novels and in 1927 he sold “The Revolt of the Pedestrians” to Amazing Stories, which brings us to the end of this book. It was the first story he had actually sold for money, and the next 25 years brought at least 44 more tales for profit, bringing us to the beginning of the book, 1952 and the publication of “The Face in the Mirror”.
I guess it’s about time I mentioned that I named this book KEELER MEMENTO because I am mildly obsessed with Christopher Nolan’s 2000 film, Memento, and think that more things in modern life should be considered irrespective of the arrow of time. Indeed, they should be considered contrary to the arrow of time, as Nolan’s hero Leonard has to do in the film. If you don’t know, the story is told in 10-minute sequences, each one occurring before the previous one. Backwards, in other words. There is a very good reason for the plot to progress backwards, namely that Lenny has a mental defect and cannot store short-term memories for more than 10 minutes. He has to start the day over every 10 minutes and boy is it a bitch. Nolan is simply forcing the viewer to live the tale as Lenny has to, relying on memory of the previously seen scenes, just as Lenny has to rely on notes, or tattoos, that he writes to himself.
So all of the stories in this book are in chronological order, as you might expect. They’re just in reverse order of the sequence they were written. You start out reading Keller’s late-career stories, delighting in his mature insight into life and literature, then slowly work your way back through the years to his literary adolescence, when he presumably knew less about writing or publishing.
Does it work as well as Memento? You tell me.
Of course you can simply read the stories in reverse order and laugh at my feeble attempt to be edgy. I confess that I took a copy of Memento, and using some editing equipment, rearranged the film so that each segment was now seen in forward chronological order. Enh, it wasn’t as good. Maybe a bit more understandable, plotwise, but the backwards way had much more impact on me.
Keller died in 1966. By Googling I found nothing that indicates that an estate exists, or that anyone is considering republishing his works. I’m pricing this huge book so that I make no profit from it. The stories are very interesting, and maybe even historic when viewed in forward or reverse order, and they definitely deserve to be easily available to modern readers. If technology has taught us anything, it’s that nothing created need ever be lost. The books I borrowed from Ced are rare and valuable, and rightly so, but the stories themselves should be beyond such petty concerns. They are to be read and enjoyed by anyone, not just the upper and middle classes.
I recently returned from the 2010 Bouchercon in San Francisco where I was pleased to find that even the authors, who have the most to lose from a reining in of the copyright laws, think the laws that keep extending the life of a copyright to 100 years or more after the author’s death are wrong. There’s such a concept as “public domain” and boy are those politicians screwing the public. I assure you, they’re not doing it for the authors; they’re doing it for the corporations. In Keller’s day a collection like this would have near the front something like this:
Copy 443 of a print run of 1000
In 2010 we don’t have “print runs”—at least micro-publishers like Ramble House don’t. A book is not made until it’s ordered. It’s called “print-on-demand publishing” and we all should get used to it. It’s the only way books like this will ever get published and the only way non-collectors will ever get a chance to read these stories. I think it’s great and I hope you do too. So dear reader, in the spirit of Memento and KELLER MEMENTO, them editing enjoyed have I as much as stories the enjoy you hope I.
Vancleave MS (Mississippi, we’re 50th in everything!)