June 10 & 17, 2013, Summer Fiction Issue: “An Inch and a Half of Glory” by Dashiell Hammett
The theme of the Summer Fiction Issue is “Crimes & Misdemeanors” and the issue features work by Dashiell Hammett, Annie Proulx, Ed Park, Sherman Alexie, Cormac McCarthy, and Jhumpa Lahiri. I’ll discuss them in that order over several posts.
“An Inch and a Half of Glory” by Dashiell Hammett
Earl Parish works for the railroad. One day he rescues a child from a burning building (although it isn’t clear the child really needed rescuing). He gains some notoriety for his deed, and a very brief mention in the newspaper (hence the title). Although he knows the truth, he lets the attention go to his head and ends up losing his job for poor performance. He has trouble holding onto a job then and sees the Fire Department as a natural place for him. But he can’t pass the physical, so he’s out of luck. Then he comes across another burning building. This time, hoping to redeem himself, he rescues a kitten, but instead of taking credit for it he gives a fake name and address. Then he takes a menial job, hoping to get out of town.
And that’s about it. Hammet does a great job letting Parish deteriorate with arrogance and then get a rude awakening. In the end, though, it seems Parish is getting another chance. An old-fashioned story.