Maugham: The Appointment in Samarra (1933)

This is included in the Kennedy/Gioia “Introduction to Fiction.”

I asked Marna and Barb about when they found the time to read, as it’s been now years since I’ve really given reading any time in my schedule. They read first thing in the morning, and right before bed. I’m desperately trying to cling to any intelligence I may once have had. But I just had to rewrite the word “intelligence” six times to get the spelling correct. I’m doomed.

Maugham, after his Razor’s Edgecan do no wrong in my book. And this example, used by Kennedy/Gioia as an example of a tale or fable, has kept me in thought for days now. In briefer, a man’s servant returns from town, says a woman jostled him in the crowd, and when he looked at her it was actually Death, so now he needs to borrow a horse and ride to Samarra to escape Death here. The master complies, after which he goes into town, finds the woman and demands to know why she scared the servant. She says her expression was just one of surprise, because she’s supposed to meet the servant in Samarra tonight and wasn’t expecting to see him here.

The point is that I laughed when the story ended. The fucking editors then ask: “How would you state the moral in your own words?” And the only thing I can come up with is “trust, but verify.”

Does the fable need a moral? Well, yes, according to this book. And if this one didn’t have a moral, then I suppose it would just be a comic episode. But if I’m trying to learn something about life itself, is it better to let the moral sink in through my dreams? Or is it better to search for it while I’m awake, debate it, use the story to recall it. This, I don’t know.

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