Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Little Opus



Though by 1927 Kay was already an established author with two novels under her belt, it was actually a short story that put her on the literary map. Night Club caused quite a sensation when it appeared in Harper's in September of that year. Yet there's actually such an absence of action in Night Club that Kay was later prompted to call it not even a story, merely a trick. 

Mrs. Brady is the ladies' lounge attendant at the Club Fran├žais, a tony New York night club. Throughout the course of the evening, young and not-so-young-anymore ladies wander in and out, lingering just long enough for the combing of hair, buffing of fingernails, powdering of noses. The reader, observing from the vantage point of the central character, is treated to snippets of the most intimate and revealing of conversations. At one a.m., when the club's dancing act go on, Mrs. Brady finally has some time to herself. She takes out the true stories-type magazine she purchased at the beginning of the story, and is immediately absorbed, her eyes drinking up printed lines.” To Mrs. Brady the magazine stories are live, vivid threads in the dull, drab pattern of her night.  

Appearing 20 years after its
initial publication, this pulp
edition of
Night Club hints at
titillations never delivered
The irony, of course, is that the "true" stories that Mrs. Brady finds so engrossing are actually playing out right under her nose, without her ever being aware of it. The story's ending is a literary punchline: that's Kay's "trick."


Night Club, which Kay later dubbed "The Little Opus," received an honorable mention from The O. Henry Awards, and was collected, along with 10 other of Kay's more successful stories up to that time, and published in a single volume in 1929. 


That same year, Kay's "Little Opus" was transferred to the big screen, albeit in a much altered (read "unrecognizable") form.


Incidentally, 1929 was also the year that one of Kay's stories actually won an 
O. Henry Award.

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