‘A Shocking Accident’ by Graham Greene

This story is brilliant for the concept at its core – that a tragedy (the death of a parent) can have about it an inherent comedy (method of dispatch) such that it haunts the offspring left behind in a uniquely undignified way. I first read it in an anthology of the same name, and sadly it set the bar so high that most of the other stories couldn’t compete. It also has a great opening. Like David Copperfield summoned to the headmaster’s office on his birthday, expecting a hamper and receiving instead news of his mother’s death, Jerome sits opposite his housemaster without fear, for he is an ‘approved, reliable’ boy, destined ‘for Marlborough or Rugby’. Rather, the housemaster appears a little afraid of Jerome. What does he have to tell him? The news is delivered, and a guilty smile spreads across the reader’s face. Perhaps there is also a snort, or a hoot, at the gift of this awful, wonderful image. So many short stories are dark, it is true, and this one in a way is no exception. But it is also exceptionally funny.

In A Shocking Accident: stories with a twist in the tail, ed. Sara Corrin, Walker Books, 2003; available online here