William Austin: Peter Rugg, the Missing Man (Deal Me In 2018 – Week 6)

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“Your estate, indeed, remains, but no home. You were cut off from the last age, and you can never be fitted to the present. Your home is gone, and you can never have another home in this world.”

It’s been a while since I’ve been to 19th Century America in my short story reading so it’s a nice surprise when I selected the Six of Spades for Week 6 of my Deal Me In 2018 short story project which corresponds to William Austin’s “Peter Rugg, the Missing Man” published in 1827.

Travelers in New England during the 1820’s periodically run into Peter Rugg  driving a horse and carriage with a young girl and followed by a rain storm. The man always asks how to get to Boston. As the story proceeds, the reader begins to understand that the man has an “other-worldliness” about him. In most of the accounts, his horse is significantly larger and blacker than normal. As these accounts unfold, the reader also realizes that the Boston this man is looking for is not the current Boston.

So the title character appears to be a ghost or a time traveler. I enjoy the way the travelers don’t seem shocked that the man could be a ghost as though it were common for ghosts to roam around the countryside of the young United States.

Just as in Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle”, Peter Rugg comes from a time prior to the American Revolution and doesn’t quite understand what’s going on in this new country. An attitude of “we’re never going back” from the travelers alluded to in the quotation I included contrasts nicely with Rugg’s incredulousness about all of the changes.

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“Peter Rugg, the Missing Man” is included in my copy of The Oxford Book of American Short Stories edited by Joyce Carol Oates. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

 

 

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Julie Hecht: Do the Windows Open? (Deal Me In 2018 – Week 5)

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I’d have to hear the word “moss” turned into a verb. Dr. Loquesto didn’t mind hearing the word “laser” conjugated as a verb. I minded, but in my new job I wouldn’t even have the authority to say ” ‘Moss’ is not a verb.” Still, if I could learn to moss up tables and strew calla lilies in wet Oasis, maybe I could earn enough to hire the flunked-out trainee with the big hat to drive me back and forth. That was my plan.

One can take any single paragraph from Julie Hecht’s story “Do the Windows Open?” and think perhaps this a sweet and funny story about a New York neurotic and her fear of traveling in and around the city. And one would be right. It’s when you string all seventeen pages of these paragraphs together that one can begin to get tired and think “Is anything ever going to happen?” And, of course, nothing ever does. Things don’t always have to “happen” in stories, but this one just goes on a little too long.

I do enjoy the way the author only gives the reader the narrator’s perspective of her fellow bus passengers. We only have to worry about her which is more than enough. After finishing the story, I think I needed a little Xanax and Mozart, myself.

Wonderful Town

This story is included in my collection Wonderful Town: New York Stories from The New Yorker edited by David Remnick. I read it when I selected the Four of Hearts for Week 5 of my Deal Me In 2018 short story project. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

John Steinbeck’s East of Eden

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“There’s a black violence on this valley. I don’t know – I don’t know. It’s as though some old ghost haunted it out of the dead ocean below and troubled the air with unhappiness. It’s as secret as hidden sorrow. I don’t know what it is, but I see it and feel it in the people here.”

After being on my shelf since I was in high school, I finally read John Steinbeck’s novel East of Eden. I don’t know why I waited so long. I’ve gone back on goodreads.com and wondered why I have given so many books 5 stars in recent months. I don’t necessarily regret these ratings and I’m not going to change them but now I want to somehow signify that East of Eden reached out and grabbed me more than these other books. I want to give it more than 5 stars.

Steinbeck

I consider Steinbeck one of those American writers that grapple with the disillusionment felt by so many after World War I.  In East of Eden, the Biblical allusion in the title got me thinking that maybe the reason for the disillusionment is the sense that something has been lost, something of value is gone. What that something is could take a hundred posts to discuss and maybe we still wouldn’t come to a definitive answer. Maybe the Eden that is lost is so lost that we don’t know what it is anymore.

In the center of the novel, though, Adam Trask and Samuel Hamilton, the patriarchs of the two families involved in the novel, discuss the Old Testament story of Cain and Abel with Lee, Trask’s Cantonese servant. It prompts Lee to ask some learned members of his family about the meaning of the verses in Genesis 4. After two years of learning Hebrew, the scholars determine that a certain word that can be translated as a command actually means something closer to “thou mayest” or “to choose”.  The power to choose good or the power to choose evil – maybe that has something to do with what is lost. Are we no longer able to choose good?

In spite of being family patriarchs, neither Trask nor Hamilton are strong the way we might think of family leaders. To me, they seem more inherently good than inherently strong. Their struggle to choose good made them shine as characters – even with their weaknesses and imperfections.

And then there is Lee who I think is both strong and good – and, by choice, a servant. He now firmly has a place on my list of favorite literary characters.

Jesse Stuart: Lost Land of Youth (Deal Me In 2018 – Week 4)

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Now, Lost Creek was a lost world and a dying world. The dreams of his youth were lost and dying dreams. Even the song of the autumn wind was as melancholy to him now as the organ had been when it played hymns in the church. He was a stranger in the lost world of his youth. He didn’t know anybody. Not one person had recognized him.

Jesse Stuart’s “Lost Land of Youth” is another story where someone finds success outside of their childhood home and then returns. In this case, its for a funeral.

Having read this same theme in Elizabeth Hardwick’s “Evenings at Home” a few weeks ago, I couldn’t help but compare these two stories.  While Hardwick’s story easily comes out on top, Stuart’s is still worth reading. As his protagonist is returning to a small Kentucky town, Stuart’s description of the natural world stood out most to me. Also, the person he is searching for and told is at the funeral never really shows up. It’s a powerful idea that this person no longer looks like the images from the past to the point of being unrecognizable.

I read this story when I selected the Six of Diamonds for Week 4 of my Deal Me In 2018 short story project. It is included in my copy of Home and Beyond: An Anthology of Kentucky Short Stories edited by Morris Allen Grubbs. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Bernard Malamud: My Son the Murderer (Deal Me In 2018 – Week 3)

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At night I watch the news programs. I watch the war from day to day. It’s a big burning war on a small screen. It rains bombs and the flames go higher. Sometimes I lean over and touch the war with the flat of my hand. I wait for my hand to die.

With Bernard Malamud’s short story “My Son the Murderer”, I run into a situation that doesn’t occur very often.

All I really want to say is go find this story and read it!

It doesn’t use the traditional prose that Malamud so skillfully uses in the other stories of his that I’ve read. Instead, he runs the inner thoughts of a mother, father and son between paragraphs and sometimes even within the same paragraphs. No quotation marks are used when one of them is speaking. And in this story, that makes sense. It gives the feel that it’s about an entire family even if the son is the catalyst for the plot and emotions.

Set during the Vietnam War, Malamud also brilliantly presents the struggles of an entire nation in a few pages of intense family drama.

This story is included in my copy of The Oxford Book of American Short Stories edited by Joyce Carol Oates. I read it when I selected the Five of Spades for Week 3 of my Deal Me In 2018 short story project. My Deal Me In list can be seen here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

I would have told her that Davis and I never talked much, or even looked at each other, but it didn’t matter, because we were looking at the same sky together, which is maybe more intimate than eye contact anyway. Anybody can look at you. It’s quite rare to find someone who sees the same world you see.

Of the YA authors that I have read (and admittedly, I haven’ t read a lot), John Green is one of the best. As I enjoyed his novel The Fault in Our Stars so much, I looked forward to reading his latest novel Turtles All the Way Down. I wasn’t disappointed.

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Narrator Aza Holmes plays internet detective with her friend Daisy as she deals with her unnamed mental illness. While experts in mental illness would make a better case for exactly how well Green portrays this aspect of Aza, I will say that he easily pulls the reader into Aza’s world. The mystery that Aza and Daisy try to solve plays second to the ups and downs of the teenage characters and their relationships with friends and family- and to Aza’s illness.

In the two other Green novels I’ve read – The Fault in Our Stars and An Abundance of Katherines – the humor Green uses made me occasionally stop reading because I had to laugh so hard. While Turtles All the Way Down has some very funny moments, I don’t recall having to stop reading. That’s not necessarily something negative, its just different.

Green’s use of science in this story blends perfectly with all of the human emotions and reactions to things that can’t always be explained – such as human suffering. I think Green is a master at taking the lives of teenagers and showing how they fit in with the deeper meaning and bigger picture of the world and life in general.

Lorrie Moore: How to Become a Writer (Deal Me In 2018 – Week 2)

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Understand what you must do. Switch majors. The kids in your nursery project will be disappointed, but you have a calling, an urge, a delusion, an unfortunate habit. You have, as your mother would say, fallen in with a bad crowd.

Lorrie Moore’s short story “How to Become a Writer” is made up entirely of directives that point to the title. It’s a very funny and creative story that had me nodding my head and chuckling pretty much the entire time I was reading it.

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An interesting aspect is that the narrator (Francine, but one gets the idea this could be Moore, herself) tends to be self deprecating but also manages to make fun of both her creative writing college crowd and the crowd, like her family, that looks down their nose at her chosen field of work.

All of the amusing sarcasm and satire in the story might be covering up the deeper loneliness that the narrator feels. She’s not sure she fits in to either crowd and doesn’t have any other crowds to consider.

This story is included in my anthology The Oxford Book of American Short Stories edited by Joyce Carol Oates. I read it when I selected the Jack of Spades for Week 2 of my Deal Me In 2018 short story project. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.