Yet still the gaunt, furious figure came on against the glare and roar of the flames. With the scythe lifted, it bore down upon them, upon the wild glaring eyes of the horses and the swinging glints of gun barrels, without any cry, any sound.
I don’t know which came first: William Faulkner’s short story “Wash” or his novel Absalom! Absalom!. But both are connected. Wash Jones is Thomas Sutpen’s companion for twenty years. Wash lives in an old rundown cabin on what used to be Sutpen’s plantation. Even though Wash is white, Sutpen treats him the way he treats most of his former slaves.
The “culmination” of Wash Jones and Thomas Sutpen’s relationship is a significant plot point in Absalom! Absalom! but as with much of Faulkner’s writing, it can be tricky figuring out exactly what is going on. He doesn’t spell out everything and in some cases he seems to actually hide things.
The horrific aspects of Sutpen’s relationship with Wash and his granddaughter are a little more straightforward in “Wash”. This story makes things a little clearer as Thomas Sutpen’s world collapses in the aftermath of the American Civil War.
It’s not uncommon for readers to question an author’s writing when it’s published posthumously. I admit I can be skeptical about such publications, myself. However, in the case of J. R. R. Tolkien’s story Roverandom, things are a little different.
We know that we are unable to literally recreate Tolkien telling his own children a story before they go to bed. But what Tolkien fan wouldn’t at least want to try? It’s this theory that allows me to enjoy this short novel instead of “worrying” about whether this was exactly what Tolkien would have wanted published.
Roverandom is a pet dog that bites the trousers of a cranky wizard and gets turned into a toy. As a toy, the dog is still able to wander around and he becomes lost as he gets taken to the moon to meet the Man-On-The-Moon and have some adventures and then back to earth to swim around in a world under the sea.
In a word (or two), its delightful…and fun.
There’s no real connection in this story to Middle Earth; however, here’s one small potential tie-in:
Roverandom thought he caught a glimpse of the city of the Elves on the green hill beneath the Mountains, a glint of white far away; but Uin dived again so suddenly that he could not be sure. If he was right, he is one of the very few creatures, on two legs or four, who can walk about our own lands and say they have glimpsed that other land, however far away.
Because they are dead too, who had learned to respect that whose respect in turn their hardness had commanded before there were welded center sections and parachutes and ships that would not spin.
“All the Dead Pilots” might be the final World War I story of William Faulkner’s. It’s the last one in The Wasteland section of his Collected Stories. And in this one there is a Jefferson connection. One of the Sartoris men is in France vying for the affection of the same woman in which Captain Spoomer is interested. In spite of the war setting and the title, the story has some comedic takes – especially as the stray dog roams in and out of the scenes.
This also is another story in which the narrator is nameless, a man with a mechanical leg who censors the mail coming in and out. The mail plays a key role in the telling of the story. We also get to see someone from Faulkner’s Mississippi in a significantly different setting.
I had got to the point where I resented praise and I resented pity and I wondered what people were thinking when they shook my hand. In New York I met some pretty fine people; easygoing, hard-drinking, flotsam and jetsam; and they liked me; and I wondered if I trusted them; if I was able any longer to trust anybody. Not on top, where all the world could see, but underneath where everybody lives.
James Baldwin is an incredible writer as I’ve found out reading through much of his fiction. “Previous Condition” is no different as he examines the current life of Peter, a black actor trying to make his way in New York City.
The central plot point involves Peter being discovered living in a room rented for him by one of his friends. A room where African Americans are not allowed to live. He’s told to leave before the police are called – so he does.
Baldwin graphically and easily displays his writing ability in showing the reader the frustration, the humiliation, the helplessness, the mistrust and even the hatred Peter feels for not just the land lady kicking him out but for his society as a whole.
Peter’s Jewish friend (who rented the room for him) and his Irish American girlfriend both are able to listen to Peter and empathize but they don’t seem to be able to help him.
This story is included in Baldwin’s collection Going to Meet the Man. I read it when I selected the Queen of Hearts for Week 15 of my Deal Me In 2021 short story project. Check out my Deal Me In list here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.
‘Well, here they come. Look at them! They look like mosquitoes in September. I hope he don’t get worked up now and think he’s playing beaver. If he does he’ll just be one down to Ronnie, provided the devil has a beard….Want the wheel?’
In William Faulkner’s “Turnabout”, Claude, a young English naval soldier in France during World War I, drunkenly talks Bogard, a pilot, into letting him fly with him. As the title might imply, Bogard then goes out with Claude in a small torpedo boat on the English channel.
My understanding is that Faulkner was rejected from joining the Army because he wasn’t tall enough; however, he tends to write about military things in very detailed believable fashion. Of course, I’m not an expert on military details so I can’t really say. I am curious, though, whether he learned about these types of maneuvers from anyone in particular.
I’m not sure what Faulkner was trying to do with this story outside of putting two people into situations with which they are not familiar. The results? They both throw up.
William Faulkner’s “Crevasse” continues his World War I stories and continues his seeming disconnection from Jefferson, Mississippi. Given the few Faulkner novels I’ve read, I know he doesn’t stay away for long but it’s interesting the way he’s taken a break. Just like someone actually going off to war.
In “Crevasse”, few characters have names and Faulkner adds a twist to the idea that there are no atheists in foxholes. A group of soldiers tries to move a wounded man while attempting to avoid shell craters that pop up along the way.
The story’s ending interestingly juxtaposes the wounded man’s words with the reading of the Bible:
At the foot of the slope the fourteen men kneel. The one in the center has a Bible in his hand, from which he is intoning monotonously. Above his voice the wounded man’s gibberish rises, meaningless and unemphatic and sustained.
In the Gospel it says ‘And he went out and wept bitterly.’ I can imagine a very still and very dark garden where in the quiet there can be heard, just barely, lonely sobbing.”
In Anton Chekhov’s “The Student”, a seminary student comes across a campfire on a dark and cold night. The couple of ladies sitting by it remind him of the story of Peter’s denial of Christ in the New Testament Gospels. He’s comfortable enough with his company to tell them that story.
The story from the Bible ends with Peter sobbing. As the story sinks in, one of the ladies begins sobbing. As the student leaves the campfire, he starts sobbing, too.
Throughout Chekhov’s story, the fire contrasts with the darkness and coldness of the night. The emotional domino effect gives the story an intriguing spiral. In the New Testament account we know why Peter cries, but in Chekhov’s story the reason for the lady and the student crying isn’t quite as clear.
It’s obvious that the story has sparked (maybe pun intended) something in them. Is it simply a reaction to the artistry and story-telling of the student? Is it an action and reaction between the lady and the student? Is there some sort of religious conversion going on?
I’m going with a “yes” to the first question as the little bit of research I’ve done about Chekhov indicates that he wasn’t really a religious man so maybe the emotion stems from the artistic power.
Speaking of art, the painting at the top of this post is Denial of Peter by Karel Dujardin.
Joe had never finished high school. When he was seventeen, he was picking up a few dollars playing semi-professional ball, and then he played two seasons for Scranton and one in the Southern League. Some body saw him down there, and picked up his contract, and ever since he’d been in the big money.
It was seldom enough that Charles J. Horton went to see a ball game. He worked for the Third National, and from the beginning he had taught himself to remember that although a bank closes at three o’clock it doesn’t pay to rush right off as soon as your books for the day are finished.
One day, Charles J. Horton takes a walk on the wild side and goes to a ball game and sees Joe Marchand play. How these two guys’ paths DON’T cross makes for a tragic story…and an oddly funny one. Edward L. McKenna’s “Fielder’s Choice” is well worth the ten minutes it took to read.
Speaking of baseball, Thursday was opening day and this afternoon I went to my first Reds game since September of 2019. It was a blast and they even won 9-6 against the Cardinals! Check out some of the highlights below.
That night I told my father about Jesse, and from then on he would count out an extra half-dollar so that my ‘little friend’ need not go hungry. Jesse remained sheepish about accepting the rice cake and chocolate milk she favored for lunch; it was a difficult moment that we learned to live through each day.
The title character of Rosemarie Robotham’s “Jesse” and its narrator come from different backgrounds but both feel they live outside the norm. They become fast friends as they discover a ghost.
The ghost story aspect here is not that scary, not that much of a surprise, not that much of a twist. It’s just sort of there. The two friends get to stare into the same mystery cementing their friendship in spite of their differences.
But the ghost doesn’t feel made up. It’s not a gimmick. It’s not pushed into the story just to make it interesting. It works quite well.
If someone is looking for the haunted, scary, horror type of ghost story, “Jesse” might not be it but I would credit it as a “real” ghost story or at least a “genuine” one.
“Jesse” is included in Black American Short Stories: A Century of the Best edited by John Henrik Clarke. I read it when I selected the Queen of Clubs for Week 14 of my Deal Me In 2021 short story project. Check out my Deal Me In list here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.
Ricky Scaggs has a song called “Don’t Get Above Your Raisin'” about not getting too high and mighty. William Faulkner’s short story “Victory” uses this same concept as Alec Gray, a young Scottish boy, goes off to fight in England during World War I. He manages to gain success and respect among his military comrades and one might think this would please his ship building father but his father sees this as Alec rejecting his roots.
This story doesn’t involve anyone (that I’m aware of) from Jefferson, Mississippi but the conflict isn’t uncommon to Faulkner’s southern community.
Also, the story contains some vintage Faulkner wording:
In the fall, he returned to London. Perhaps he could not have said why himself. Perhaps it was beyond any saying, instinct perhaps bringing him back to be present at the instant out of all time of the manifestation, apotheosis, of his life which had died again.