Thursday, July 2, 2009
Harris Merton Lyon (1883-1916) published only two books, both collections of short stories from off-trail publishers, Sardonics (1908) and Graphics (1913). Theodore Dreiser called him "De Maupassant, Junior" and H. L. Mencken was a fan. When O. Henry realized he was too ill to finish his story "The Snow Man", he asked Lyon to do so for him. Carl Sandburg was a fan too, so it's surprising that Lyon has so disappeared from modern literary awareness. A small revival was begun by his daughter Zoe Lyon (1915-1976) in the late 1960s, but since her passing, his works have slipped back into literary oblivion.
Sardonics (1908) is a collection of sixteen sketches, plus three poems. The cover is gloriously ornate---a skull in a jester's cap, surrounded by orange poppies. The quotation (from the Book of Job) printed on the title page reads: "Cannot my taste discern perverse things?" The stories I've read so far aren't macabre, but written with a gritty realism and a distaste for sentimentality. One sees why Dreiser and Mencken liked them, and Dreiser's epithet "De Maupassant, Junior" is particularly apt.