T. C. Boyle: The Devil and Irv Cherniske (Deal Me In 2016 – Week 34)

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I enjoy stories where characters make a deal with the devil – like Robert Johnson going down to the crossroads or a Georgia boy entering a fiddle playing contest. Both of those have a musical theme, too. Of course, that might be an additional reason why I like those two stories.

The Best American Catholic Short Stories: A Sheed & Ward Collection

When I included T. C. Boyle’s short story “The Devil and Irv Cherniske” on my Deal Me In 2016 list, I was looking forward to reading another version. I also happen to enjoy an author who can take a tried and true formula and make it their own. And Boyle pretty much does that with this story.

I’m probably stereotyping a little bit, but the name Irv Cherniske brought up images of someone rather quirky and given what little I knew about Boyle’s writing, I figured “quirky” would be right up his alley. However, the character of Irv in the story isn’t quite what I imagined. Irv actually already has a lot of the devil in him prior to his negotiations with the Evil One.

One of the little twists Boyle adds to his story involves a side deal with Irv’s wife. You’ll have to read the story to determine for whom or whether this side deal ends well.  Another twist has Irv, in his later years, rethinking this bargain. So he ends up seeing Reverend Jimmy, who, being from “Staten Island [still] spoke in the Alabama hog farmer’s dialect peculiar to his tribe.”

So ulitmately, Irv sells his soul for money and then uses his money to try to buy it back.

Again, read the story to find out which side finally gets Irv.

This story is included in my copy of The Best American Catholic Short Stories edited by Daniel McVeigh and Patricia Schnapp.  I read it when I selected the Jack of Clubs for Week 34 of my Deal Me In 2016 short story project. My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

 

 

T. C. Boyle: Filthy With Things (Deal Me In 2016 – Week 33)

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Julian and Marsha have an issue with organization and accumulating things in T. C. Boyle’s short story “Filthy With Things” which is included in my copy of The Oxford Book of American Short Stories edited by Joyce Carol Oates.  I read it this week when I selected the Ten of Spades for Week 33 of my Deal Me In 2016 short story project. My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

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Boyle achieves significant hilarity early on in the story by frequently including the description of some oddball antique or quirky collectible throughout the plot:

If they were to drain the poolwhere would Marsha keep her museum-quality collection of Early American whaling implements, buoys and ship’s furniture, not to mention the two hundred twelve antique oarlocks currently mounted on the pool fence?

Susan Certaine (great name!) enters the picture offering her paid services with Nazi-like intensity. She uses Imelda Marcos’ shoe problem as a reference and Julian hires her for “help”.

As the story continues, Susan Certaine and her squad cease to be Nazi-like and become actually totalitarian in their control over Julian and his wife. This still makes for an excellent story; however, it’s not as funny as it began. Of course, I’ve always been one to think a little bit of clutter makes a house more of a home.

This is the second story by T. C. Boyle that I’ve read (the other one was “The Hector Quesadilla Story” for Week 1 of DMI 2016) and while I’ve enjoyed them very much, I’m still waiting for the one that will completely blow me away. I feel like it’s out there somewhere. Next week, I will be reading another Boyle story “The Devil and Irv Cherniske”. Maybe that will be the one.

How about you? Any T. C. Boyle suggestions?

J. D. Salinger: Slight Rebellion Off Madison (Deal Me In 2016 – Week 32)

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While riding in Fifth Avenue buses, girls who knew Holden often thought they saw him walking past Saks’ or Altman’s or Lord & Taylor’s, but it was usually somebody else.

For fans of J. D. Salinger, does his short story “Slight Rebellion Off Madison”, which would later become his novel The Catcher In The Rye, come off as a little disappointing?

For me, not necessarily.

Is it everything one could hope for as a Salinger fan?

No, not really.

According to Wikipedia, “Slight Rebellion Off Madison” was published in The New Yorker on December 21, 1946 and eventually morphed into chapter 17 of The Catcher in the Rye.

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For those who have already read Salinger’s more famous novel, not much new pops up in this story. Holden Caulfield’s middle name is Morrisey. I didn’t know that or at least don’t remember that being mentioned in The Catcher in the Rye.

In Holden’s rant against New York, I did find one of his complaints amusing. He doesn’t like having to always take an elevator down before going out. He wants to just go out.

I find the story interesting more from an historical standpoint than anything else. For first time Salinger readers, I would recommend the entire novel as opposed to this story.

I discovered “Slight Rebellion Off Madison” in a new collection I own: Wonderful Town: New York Stories from the New Yorker edited by David Remnick. I chose Salinger’s story when I drew a wild card, the Two of Spades, for my Deal Me In 2016 short story project. My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

“Carried Away” – The Alice Munro Story of the Month: August

The town was full of the smell of horses. As evening came on, big blinkered horses with feathered hooves pulled the sleighs across the bridge, past the hotel, beyond the street lights, down the dark side of the roads. Somewhere out in the country they would lose the sound of each other’s bells.

Alice Munro’s short story “Carried Away” provides an interesting question. Is it a ghost story? An unexplained incongruity in the story makes the reader wonder if ghosts are the best explanation. If not ghosts, then perhaps a dream? Thinking about this was fascinating.

It also contains one of the most gruesome scenes I’ve read in a while.

At the same time, “Carried Away” isn’t simply ghosts, dreams or gore. Like the other Alice Munro stories I’ve read, the female protagonist seems to exist in a self-imposed isolation. She lives with what I would call a mild state of despair. We don’t know all of the details but a failed relationship inspires Louisa to move to her current home town to be a librarian; however, it seems like this despair is the price she pays for being who she is and for standing on her own two feet. It also seems a price she is willing to pay.

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“Carried Away” has a more winding plot than the other Munro stories I’ve read. It starts with Louisa receiving letters from a soldier in Europe during World War I. He knows who she is but, being new to the town, she is unable to place his face. This inability to know him goes on for longer than one might possibly think; however, I found this aspect of the story powerful. The winding part of the plot involves what happens to both characters for the next several decades.

If you like ghost stories, read “Carried Away” and see what you think. If you like gruesome, read this and I don’t think you will be disappointed.

This story is included in the collection Carried Away: A Selection of Stories that  I borrowed from my public library.

Mary Gordon: Mrs. Cassidy’s Last Year (Deal Me In 2016 – Week 31)

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She sat chewing, looking at the television. What was that look in her eyes now? Why did he want to call it wickedness? Because it was blank and hateful. Because there was no light. Eyes should have light. There should be something behind them. That was dangerous, nothing behind her eyes but hate. Sullen like a bull kept from a cow.

Mary Gordon’s short story “Mrs. Cassidy’s Last Year” is the second story I’ve read this year involving Alzheimer’s Disease. The first one was Alice Munro’s “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” which I read in March. While most readers (including myself) would consider Munro’s to be the better written story, Gordon’s comes from a slightly different perspective which makes it just as intriguing.

The Best American Catholic Short Stories: A Sheed & Ward Collection

Mr. Cassidy, in his old age, deals with a wife who’s personality has drastically changed. She constantly swears at him and becomes violent; however, decades ago, he promised – at her request- to let her die in her own bed, to never let “them” take her away. Mr. Cassidy wants to honor his promise much to the dismay of his son who accuses his father of “playing God”.

“Mrs. Cassidy’s Last Year” has no resolution which makes me think more of Munro’s story. “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” actually has a resolution and it’s a surprisingly happy one given the topic. I find the comparison interesting.

I read “Mrs. Cassidy’s Last Year” this week when I selected the Seven of Clubs for Week 31 of my Deal Me In 2016 short story project. It’s included in my copy of The Best American Catholic Short Stories edited by Daniel McVeigh and Patricia Schnapp. My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

 

 

 

 

J. F. Powers: Dawn (Deal Me In 2016 – Week 30)

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A sealed envelope shows up in a church collection with “The Pope – Personal” written on it. It’s known by the parishioners that the offering will be delivered to the Pope personally by the Bishop. So not knowing what is inside this particular envelope puts Father Udovic in somewhat of a dilemma: open the envelope and dismiss the wishes of the donor or don’t open the envelope and risk something less than appropriate going directly to the Pope.

With whom did the envelope originate is the central mystery surrounding J. F. Powers short story “Dawn”.  As trite as the problem may seem in the grand scheme of things, Powers manages to turn it into an odd little “who done it”? The most intriguing aspect being Father Udovic’s imagining of all the different people who might be responsible and for what reason.

Father Udovic (and the reader) eventually discovers the donor’s identity; however, the lesson the priest would like to extend to the “culprit” is a lesson that could easily be extended back to the priest, himself, and the church in general – kind of a spiritual catch-22:

It seemed to him, sitting there saying nothing, that they saw each other as two people who’d sinned together on earth might see each other in hell, unchastened even then, only blaming each other for what had happened.

This is the third story I’ve read by Powers. This one and the baseball story “Jamesie” are well worth reading. However, for a truly great Powers story, I would recommend the feline-narrated “Death of a Favorite” .

The Best American Catholic Short Stories: A Sheed & Ward Collection

I read “Dawn” this week when I selected the Nine of Clubs for Week 30 of my Deal Me In 2016 short story project. It’s included in my copy of The Best American Catholic Short Stories edited by Daniel McVeigh and Patricia Schnapp. My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

 

Michael Chabon: Smoke (Deal Me In 2016 – Week 29)

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After a while, Magee himself, who had been awake for some thirty-two hours, drifted into an easy sleep. He dreamed his usual dream, the one in which he had found his stuff and was on the mound at Three Rivers throwing seven different kinds of smoke.

“Smoke” by Michael Chabon asks the question: Which is better – to see your mediocre baseball career go further down the tubes or to be dead? Matt Magee, the mediocre pitcher, asks himself the question as he attends the funeral of his catcher, Eli Drinkwater.

Is there ever a specific answer? No. But as Magee interacts with an aging sportswriter and Eli’s wife and son, we can start to make out the answer in Magee’s mind. Of course, we can’t really get Drinkwater’s perspective because he is – uhh – dead.

While a very nice story, I admit I was a little disappointed as the writing style and humor didn’t hit me the way it did in Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (the topic of my first post here at Mirror With Clouds) or his collection of funny essays Manhood for Amateurs.  

I selected this story when I drew the Six of Diamonds for Week 29 of my Deal Me In 2016 short story project. My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis. This story is included in my copy of Baseball’s Best Short Stories edited by Paul D. Staudohar.