Recommended Stories: “The Night The Bed Fell” by James Thurber

I suppose that the high-water mark of my youth, in Columbus, Ohio, was the night the bed fell on my father. It makes a better recitation (unless, as some of my friends have said, one has heard it five or six times) than it does a piece of writing, for it is almost necessary to throw furniture around, shake doors and bark like a dog, to lend the proper atmosphere and verisimilitude to what is, admittedly, an incredible tale. Still, it did take place.


James Thurber’s hilarious short story “The Night The Bed Fell” comes recommended by Hamlette the Dame over at The Edge of the Precipice. She recommended this to me a little while ago after I had read another story by James Thurber. And I have to say that out of the handful of Thurber stories I’ve read, this is my favorite. In addition, this is probably one of the best examples of “written” physical comedy and just a plain funny story.

While laughing out loud when I was reading it, I couldn’t help thinking how difficult it would be to write a story that is based only on people doing things that are funny. I think filming physical comedy (like say The Dick Van Dyke Show) would be much easier than writing it down.

But writing it down is what Thurber does and he does it brilliantly. Like so many physical comedy sketches, it starts with a relatively innocent decision of the narrator’s father to sleep in the attic. From there, a domino effect ensues, continuing all the way to the end. I’ll mention again the laughing out loud as it happens. If this were “real life”, I think I would be listening to this story over and over again. And laughing every time.


Graham Greene: Cheap in August (Deal Me In 2016 – Week 41)

K♣ K♣ K♣ K♣ K♣ K♣ K♣ K♣

The trouble was that, after three weeks of calypsos in the humid evenings, the rum punches (for which she could no longer disguise from herself a repugnance), the warm Martinis, the interminable red snappers, and tomatoes with everythng, there had been no affair, not even the hint of one. She had discovered with disappointment the essential morality of a holiday resort in the cheap season: there were no opportunities for infidelity, only for writing postcards…

Kudos to Graham Greene for using the title phrase of his short story “Cheap in August” over and over again – without it becoming annoying or cliche. Everytime I read the phrase I thought “This is actually working!”

Mary Watson, a British woman living in New England vacations in Jamaica while her American husband travels to England on business. All of this European and American contrast is delightfully confusing (or confusingly delightful – I don’t know). While there could be a sort of cultural, political commentary buried way underneath the bamboo bars and warm Martinis, I’m not convinced that’s the real point of the story.


Mary travels to Jamaica by herself for the purpose of having what she calls an “adventure” or what most might call an affair. Gravely disappointed that a middle-aged woman like herself isn’t seen as attractive to the mostly younger men hanging out at her resort, she ultimately meets a much older and significantly less attractive man.

With his title phrase, Greene captures the air of rejection felt by Mary. He also captures Mary’s regret that neither she nor her husband have the amount of money and material success she thought they would have had by now.

“Cheap in August” is one of those stories that oozes sadness; however, the light wit with which it’s written keeps the reader from feeling the same sadness as the characters. It also makes it one of my favorite Graham Greene stories. Though  I haven’t come close to reading all of his stories, I would highly recommend this one and “A Branch of the Service”. 

I read this when I selected the King of Clubs for Week 41 of my Deal Me In 2016 short story project. It’s included in my copy of Graham Greene: Complete Short Stories. My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.


“Jakarta”-The Alice Munro Story of the Month: October

He travels a thought that has to do with staying here, with listening to Sonje talk about Jakarta while the wind blows sand off the dunes.

A thought that has to do with not having to go on, to go home.

Alice Munro tends to use a technique in her stories that I’m just now starting to realize. When an aging or elderly person looks back on life, other authors usually start with the elderly person and flash back to their youth. Munro starts with youth and flashes forward to the elderly person. Her use of this technique is brilliant in her short story “Jakarta”.


The story starts with Kath and Sonje, two young wives living among a beach community somewhere on the west coast of Canada. My guess is that it is sometime in the late 1960’s. Thoughts of marriage and being a wife and mother are sometimes exchanged verbally and sometimes not. As with most of Munro’s female characters of which I’ve read, married life and motherhood are not necessarily berrated but are usually accompanied by feelings of entrapment. Briefly mentioned is Kath’s conservative husband, Kent and Sonje’s charisamatic leftist husband, Cottar.

Then Munro does the flash forward thing to Kent as an elderly man visiting the also elderly Sonje. Kent has been divorced from Kath for years and on his third much younger wife. Sonje stayed married to Cottar. It has been several years since Sonje received word that Cottar had died while in Jakarta.

Munro gives us more flash backs to parties on the beach during their younger days but continues to focus on Kent’s and Sonje’s visit. It’s difficult to determine what’s the present. One might automatically assume the older characters are in the present but that’s not the feel Munro gives. She can time-travel better than many science fiction writers.

Then, in an odd twist, Sonje throws out the idea that she thinks Cottar faked his death and is still alive in Jakarta. For other authors, this could turn the story into a John Le Carre novel; however, as I’ve come to expect with Munro, she turns this idea into a perfectly normal theory for Sonje to have. Yes, Kent seems to think that Sonje may have a screw loose but Munro, in spite of writing from Kent’s point of view, wonderfully throws her sympathies toward Sonje and the love she truly has for her husband. And this reader’s sympathies went to Sonje, too.

This story is included in Alice Munro’s collection Family Furnishings: Selected Stories 1995 – 2014 which I borrowed from my public library.


Robert Penn Warren: Blackberry Winter (Deal Me In 2016 – Week 40)

K♥ K♥ K♥ K♥ K♥ K♥ K♥ K♥

When you are nine, you know that there are things that you don’t know , but you know that when you know something you know it. You know how a thing has been and you know that you can go barefoot in June. You do not understand that voice from back in the kitchen which says that you cannot go barefoot outdoors and run to see what has happened and rub your feet over the wet shivery grass and make the perfect mark of your foot in the smooth, creamy, red mud and then muse upon it as though you had suddenly come upon that single mark on the glistening auroral beach of the world.

Until reading Robert Penn Warren’s short story “Blackberry Winter”, I had never heard of the term. From the story, it’s described as cold weather during summer. I read this story for Week 40 of my Deal Me In 2016 short story project when I drew the King of Hearts. It’s included in my copy of Home and Beyond: An Anthology of Kentucky Short Stories edited by Morris Allen Grubbs. My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Home and Beyond: An Anthology of Kentucky Short Stories

The cold weather brings a storm into the life of Seth who narrates the story. While the story is only about this specific storm, even from the perspective of a nine year-old boy, the reader understands that this isn’t the first storm and flood to hit his rural Tennessee home in 1910, nor is it difficult to understand how this storm will wreck havoc on the economy and surrounding families.

“Blackberry Winter” reminded me of Ray Bradbury’s stories – perhaps because it’s about a child and it’s about summer. The difference would be that this story is less idyllic than Bradbury’s tend to be although it’s not without a little charm.

Seth sees his father as many young boys see their fathers – strong, heroic, protective. But Warren creates Seth’s mother to be just as strong and protective. He gets a sense of security from both of them. As Seth hears conversations from neighbors about whether drowned cows can be eaten and interacts with a tramp who is willing to bury dead chickens for money, the reader subtley begins to see a contrast. It’s not a contrast between the rich and poor (it doesn’t appear anyone is rich in this story), the haves and the have-nots, or the lucky and the unlucky. I would say the contrast is between those who give up and those who don’t.



Tobias Wolff: The Rich Brother (Deal Me In 2016 – Week 39)

3♣ 3♣ 3♣ 3♣ 3♣ 3♣ 3♣ 3♣

Pete tried to forget the letter. But of course he couldn’t. Each time he thought of it he felt crowded and breathless, a feeling that came over him again when he drove into the service station and saw Donald sitting against a wall with his head on his knees. It was late afternoon. A paper cup tumbled slowly past Donald’s feet, pushed by the damp wind.

Tobias Wolff’s short story “The Rich Brother” is the second story in a row that I’ve read involving a car trip. I read it this week when I selected the Three of Clubs for Week 39 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. “The Rich Brother” is included in my copy of The Best American Catholic Short Stories edited by Daniel McVeigh and Patricia Schnapp.

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

Donald dabbles in various religions as a young man eventually converting to Christianity and living in a small community of those with the same beliefs. Donald gets thrown out of this community when he begins giving away all of its food, clothing and money to people who supposedly need it.

Donald’s older and richer brother, Pete, picks him up to take him to his home and lends him $100 cash. On the way, they pick up a stranger with what seems like a sob story about a sick daughter. Guess what Donald does? When Pete isn’t looking, he gives the stranger the $100 before dropping him off at his destination. Much to the dismay of Pete, of course.

Something about this story reminds me of the Biblical story of the Prodigal Son; however, in this case, the word “prodigal” would be the original meaning of the word – the opposite of “frugal” as opposed to the manner in which prodigal is used to mean “wayward”, now. Is Donald’s prodigality foolishness or gererosity? That’s the question that Wolff never quite answers.

I found amazing Wolff’s ability to not cast sympathy on just one of the brothers but on both of them. Even though these two men are on opposite ends of a spectrum, I couldn’t help but like both of them.

Wolff also didn’t give the brother’s relationship any type of resolution in the story. I get the impression that Donald will go on giving things away and Pete will go on bailing him out.


Paul Horgan: The Peach Stone (Deal Me In 2016 – Week 38)

A♣  A♣  A♣  A♣  A♣  A♣  A♣  A♣

I don’t think I’ve read a short story in which an author has managed so well to tell it from multiple points of view as Paul Horgan’s “The Peach Stone”. The story consists of a four hour car ride from Roswell, New Mexico to the small town of Weed, Texas. The car ride is the result of a tragedy occuring in the lives of the four people traveling.

It’s difficult to remember that nobody in the car is actually talking for the majority of the trip. Because we read the thoughts of the married couple, their young son and his teacher and because these thoughts are not necessarily in rigid order, it seems like the car should be a buzz with chatter. It’s also difficult to say who the protagonist would be in the story. It could very easily be any of them. While I was reading, I thought of the wife as the “main” protagonist but someone else reading the story could think that title should belong to one of the others.

Much of the riders’ thoughts revolve around the tragedy that’s forced them to make the trip. For varying reasons, they all are dealing with much guilt and anguish. While one of the travelers eventually “opens up” as they reach their destination, I wondered while I was reading whether redemption or resolution would be found.

Perhaps it was-

Jodey then felt that she had returned to them all; and he stopped seeing, and just remembered, what happened yesterday; and his love for his wife was confirmed as something he would never be able to measure for himself or prove to her in words.


This story is included in my copy of The Best American Short Stories of the Century edited by John Updike. I selected it to read by drawing the Ace of Clubs for Week 38 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.


The First Half of Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Last Christmas I was a bride, with a heart overflowing with present bliss, and full of ardent hopes for the future – though not unmingled with foreboding fears. Now I am a wife: my bliss is sobered, but not destroyed; my hopes diminished, but not departed; my fears increased, but not yet thoroughly confirmed…

Usually when I post about a book half way through, it’s because it’s either exceptionally long (like War and Peace) or it’s taking exceptionally long for me to read it. The latter is the case with Anne Bronte’s novel The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

I confess I had not heard of Anne Bronte until I started reading her sisters’ novels. I have no idea whether she felt left out in the Bronte family but I didn’t want to do that a century and a half later.


The first part of the novel is told in the form of letters from Gilbert Markham to a friend in which he describes his involvement with the mysterious Helen Graham, his neighbor and the novel’s title character.  Gilbert and Helen are both fascinating characters. Helen is the more intriguing simply because we know so little about her. We know she seems to have been hurt by someone and has a maturity beyond her years. The fact that she is making a living as an artist in a society where women didn’t make a living outside of marriage makes her even more interesting.

I also find Gilbert a great narrator as one who will defend Helen to the utmost without giving one iota about what his community thinks. Granted, it’s not difficult to determine that there are things about Helen of which Gilbert is not aware – nor is the reader. As the result of what I have the feeling is a huge misunderstanding, Helen finally gives Gilbert her diary to read.

That leads to the next part. Helen writes about her courtship and ultimate marriage to Arthur Huntingdon – a scoundrel that Helen is bent on changing. I don’t condone Arthur’s behavior by any means but the contrast between the Helen that Gilbert knows and the naive Helen that is married to Arthur is almost jarring.

At the halfway point of the novel, I think there is still more to be revealed about Arthur and Helen’s marriage and what circumstances might be responsible for the added maturity of the Helen that eventually moves into Wildfell Hall.

I’ll keep reading.