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An impoverished but loving young couple sacrifices their most precious possessions to buy Christmas gifts for each other. A tramp who is desperate to be sent to prison so he can escape the winter cold. Two depressed laborers get their palms read by a Coney Island mountebank. A yellow dog who relates the story of a fat lady and her hen pecked husband. These and other unforgettable characters form part of absolutely delightful and unforgettable short story collection, The Four Million by O Henry. As the master of the “twist in the tail/tale” and the completely unexpected endings, O. Henry is unrivaled. His penchant for word-play, creating utterly charming characters, the deep humanism and romance portrayed in his stories make him one of the most read and loved short story writers. In fact, he has almost appropriated the genre and no classic anthology of English language short stories is considered complete without an O. Henry story. And O. Henry was not even his real name! Born William Sidney Porter in North Carolina, he initially studied to become a pharmacist. He was also a gifted artist. However, he began working in a bank after ill health compelled him to move to Texas. Here he was accused, probably with some cause, of embezzlement and though he was allowed to resign, a later audit conducted by the bank resulted in conviction and a desperate flight to escape arrest. He lived in the Honduras for a while, but soon returned when he got the news of his wife's fatal illness. A term in prison followed where he began publishing short stories under various pseudonyms. After serving his sentence, he discovered that he was a literary success. He began to churn out stories by the week for various magazines and earned quite a fortune. Known as the American Guy de Maupassant, O. Henry wrote stories that were witty, mischievous and impish in tone. The Four Million is his second collection and contains twenty-five stories, including his most famous one, The Gift of the Magi. Other charming tales include The Skylight Room, about a poor young typist who lives in a cramped little room in a boarding house, The Caliph, Cupid and The Clock about a nervous young suitor who's helped by a royal prince, Sisters of the Golden Circle which describes a bride who sacrifices her own husband to save another's and many more that provide hours of reading pleasure. The true hero of The Four Million is the city of New York, with its energy, compassion and kaleidoscope of human emotions.
This is a nice collection of stories by O. Henry. True to his trademark, each one had a twist at the end. Most of the stories in this collection are funny, a few are sad. The collection is read by a variety of readers, all adequate. One in particular read too quickly for my taste and another gave stilted readings full of oddly placed pauses. The quality of the readings improves as the collection progresses, and a few readers towards the end are quite excellent. All in all, worth exploring.
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