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South By Southeast

June 2024
1min read

Key West Tales

by John Hersey, Alfred A. Knopf, 240 pages

Hersey, the author of Hiroshima and fifteen works of fiction, finished this final collection of short stories shortly before his death last year. He drew on his experience living in Key West but went beyond it too in wonderful stories about John Jay Audubon killing hundreds of birds for art and pleasure; a nineteenth-century preacher who is also the town’s richest salvager of shipwrecks; an unrelaxed President Truman sipping Old Grand-Dad on vacation; and a number of obscurer modern subjects. He writes in the opening story, “The sun shines bright and hot on Key West; this is a climate that is kind to bright-blooming greenery and to joys of the flesh—frisky trysts, rum and rumpled bedsheets—and so it is that many of the citizens are well acquainted with mischief. …” Perhaps the most moving story involves a set of Key Westers today and their friend who is dying of AIDS. These stories make an unusual evocation of a timeless place—as a nineteenth-century wreckers’ town, a twentieth-century playground, and more.

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