Summary Review: This very short story demonstrates what a talented and skillful author can do with a minimal word count, to give readers an unusual, insightful, funny story. Not only does this story have a surprise ending but a happy one.
On a long ocean voyage, there are few things worse than being trapped at sea with a person who bores you to tears. The captain of The Princess of the Andes thinks he may have a solution to his annoying and talkative passenger, but his plan is going to require some VERY unusual intervention by his crew if it’s to succeed.
Princess of the Andes was a freighter with a small German crew, and she traveled along the coast of North and South America carrying cargo and a few passengers. The fare was cheap which was the reason that Randolph Letterman took a cruise each winter when he closed his little shop off Hollywood Boulevard. Randolph was not a likable man, in fact he loved the sound of his own voice so much that others tried to avoid him whenever possible. When the other passengers came to the end of their journeys and left the ship Randolph remained the only one aboard other than the crew, to the dismay of the captain.
On the first night at dinner he was seated at the captain’s table and as usual he took charge of the conversation, boring everyone with all sorts of “interesting” information he had gained in his previous careers as a schoolteacher and librarian. He became such an excruciatingly boring companion at dinner that Captain Herrman had visions of tossing him into the sea, just to get rid of him. In fact things became so unbearable that he came up with what he thought was a foolproof plan to stop Randolph from dominating the conversation. Of course Randolph had no idea of how annoying he was, and when the captain put his plan into action by speaking to his crew in German he told Randolph that he was trying to spare him from being bored by technical topics, but Randolph craftily put a stop to that by declaring that he was never bored (or boring) and would welcome discussing all the technical matters they wanted to talk about, in English.
The captain could not tell him what he really thought of him, without being unkind, so Randolph persisted in dominating the conversations, making a nuisance of himself and slowly driving everyone crazy. The only person who saw another side of him was the ship’s doctor who realized that he could be kind, when he was taken ill and Randolph helped him just by being around, providing comfort. However, he continued to be the source of major irritation to the crew until the captain could bear it no longer and hatched another ingenious plot, after being told by the doctor that Randolph was gay. As captain, his crew had to do what he requested, and this time he needed a big sacrifice if he was going to save the rest of the crew from his talkative passenger.
One of the reasons I love this author’s writing is his characters. Pompous and dense Randolph Letterman was so well drawn that I could picture other people in real life who were just as oblivious to their own faults, as they aggravated friends and family to the point where they ended up in a shallow grave or with a bullet to the head. The captain was another wonderful character who was devious and obviously the kind of person who selfishly viewed his comfort as paramount to his equilibrium, regardless of the cost to others. The other crew members given face time in the story were just as three dimensional, and it was amazing that Victor Banis managed to achieve so much with so few words. Getting a reader to become invested in characters in a short story takes a different type of writing ability, because most of the time readers hardly get to know the characters before the story ends. But there are a few characters that make an impression, good or bad, and you remember them for a long time. Such a character was Randolph Letterman whose loneliness was evident because he could not bear to be by himself, and thoughtlessly imposed himself on others, regardless how they felt about him.
Writing short stories that are enjoyable and don’t leave the reader asking the question “whatever happened when I wasn’t looking?” is a skill many writers don’t possess, but there is no doubt in my mind that Victor has mastered this ability. Not only was Princess of the Andes entertaining, it was very funny with a twisted HFN ending. Definitely recommended.