William Trevor: Graillis’s Legacy (Deal Me In 2018 – Week 46)

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William Trevor often deals with protagonists that have unfulfilled desires, less than perfect marriages. Trevor often manages to sympathize with these protagonists by keeping some aspect of their character noble.

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Graillis takes a letter to an attorney in a town miles away from his home. The letter indicates that a woman has left a substantial amount of money to Graellis in her will. We also know that Graillis is a widow and the woman with the will is not his wife. Graillis does not want the money from the other woman but only requests a small token such as an ashtray or a china plate.

Trevor movingly explains the emotions Graillis feels cutting to the core of his personality but only explaining the relationship between him and the other woman close to the end of the story. Graillis left a potentially lucrative job at the bank to become a librarian much to the dismay of his wife:

His safe employment had been taken for granted; in time promotion would mean occupancy of a squat grey landmark in the town, the house above the bank, with railings and a grained hall door. She had married into that; books had never been an interest they shared, had never been, for her, a need.

The woman for whom they were had often been noticed by Graillis about the town, coming out of a shop, getting into her car, not the kind of woman he would ever have known.

Much treasured conversations about books appear to be the extent of Graillis’s relationship with the other woman – but it was a need not fulfilled by his marriage.

As melancholy as this story is, it’s one for any book lover. As a male book lover, I found something about this story especially touching and sad.

I read this story when I selected the Two of Diamonds for Week 46 of my Deal Me In 2018 short story project. It’s the third wild card I’ve chosen which means there is one more to go with not very many weeks left. My Deal Me In 2018 list can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

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Elizabeth Bishop: The Farmer’s Children (Deal Me In 2018 – Week 45)

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But how could it be going to the moon when the moon was coming right down on the hill? No, moons; there was a whole row of them. No, those must be the disks of the harrow. No, the moon had split into a sheaf of moons, slipping off each other sideways, off and off and off and off.

Elizabeth Bishop’s story “The Farmer’s Children” contains sharp writing and sharp wit and starts out with a pleasant manner of story-telling. A farmer has two sons from a wife who has died and three daughters from his current wife. All five children appear to play well together innocently imagining ships and shipwrecks.

Things seem fine and fun until one of the boys realizes its “bread crumb” night and he starts to save bread crumbs at dinner. His stepmother tells them that its the night they have to go to the barn. Apparently this has happened before and they don’t think anything unusual – but the reader sees some kind of warning. Then on their way to the barn, they have to go through a cornfield leaving the bread crumbs as a trail.

For me, the cornfield becomes the truly ominous sign that things are not as fine and fun as they might appear to be. Walking through a cornfield at night never bodes well.

Many details are left out of the story. Details that might supply a reason for what happens. And I also have to leave out what little details are given because it would ruin the story for anyone who might enjoy some surprises and suspense.

But I would recommend “The Farmer’s Children”.

This story is included in The Best Short Stories of the Century edited by John Updike. I read it when I selected the Jack of Hearts for Week 45 of my Deal Me In 2018 short story project. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

William Saroyan: Resurrection of a Life (Deal Me In 2018 – Week 44)

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I was this boy and he is dead now, but he will be prowling through the city when my body no longer makes a shadow upon the pavement, and if it is not this boy it will be another, myself again, another boy alive on earth, seeking the essential truth of the scene, seeking the static and precise beneath that which is in motion and which is imprecise.

When I was a teenager, I remember reading William Saroyan’s novel The Human Comedy. It’s been so long since I read it that I couldn’t begin to say what it was about. But now that I’ve read his short story “Resurrection of a Life”, I might have to go revisit that novel.

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“Resurrection of a Life” is odd in that it is told in two different “persons”. The older narrator speaks in first person about himself as a boy in third person. It’s one person but told as though there were two. Not just any author could make that work but Saroyan uses it to great effectiveness.

The time frame in which the boy is living is 1917 – just as the United States is entering World War I. He sells newspapers for money to buy bread for his family. He skillfully shouts out the headlines while the older narrator gives the boy the ability to see the horrors of the war. The boy also goes to church on Sundays to enjoy singing hymns while the older narrator allows the boy to not believe in the faith being preached.

This is perhaps one of the most poetic stories I’ve ever read. It made me want to memorize it:

Everything begins with inhale and exhale, and never ends, moment after moment, yourself inhaling, and exhaling, seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, tasting, moving, sleeping, waking, day after day and year after year, until it is now, this moment, the moment of your being, the last moment, which is saddest and most glorious.

“Resurrection of a Life” is included in ThBest Short Stories of the Century edited by John Updike.  I read it when I selected the Seven of Clubs for Week 44 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.

 

Pat Carr: Diary of a Union Soldier (Deal Me In 2018 – Week 43)

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She stood up again, carefully shut the trunk. She gazed at the profile of the man on the bed, and took a jagged breath that in the cold air of the room sounded like a branch against glass. Then she opened the door to the gray yellow morning and went outside.

Pat Carr uses an interesting idea in her short story “Diary of a Union Soldier”. Set during the American Civil War, a woman compares her marriage to a Confederate soldier who is away from their Kentucky home fighting to what she imagines a marriage would be like to the unconscious wounded Union soldier lying in her bed. Most of her imaginary marriage comes from reading the diary that the woman found with the Union soldier’s things. And it comes as no surprise that the marriage she can’t have appears better than the one she has.

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The excerpts from the diary that Carr includes in the story prove the Union soldier is articulate – perhaps more so than the woman’s husband. The Union soldier also seems observant of his surroundings. Other than that; however, the diary doesn’t give much detail about the soldier’s background or personality. This comes from the woman’s imagination. She takes considerable note of the handsomeness of the soldier. Also, something that might be different from her husband.

While maybe not one of my favorite stories, it’s one worth reading and one I would recommend.

I read “Diary of a Union Soldier” when I selected the Four of Diamonds for Week 43 of my Deal Me In 2018 short story project. 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 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

G. K. Chesterton: The Fairy-Tale of Father Brown (Deal Me In 2018 – Week 42)

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Perhaps his reason had been suddenly unseated by the unnatural captivity he carried with him, but in that wood he felt something unfathomably German – the fairy tale.

While I’ve found all of G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown stories enjoyable (all of them that I’ve read anyway),  “The Fairy-Tale of Father Brown” could rank up there as my favorite. I like the way Chesterton doesn’t always use the traditional mystery/detective story format – the one with all the “usual suspects”.

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In the case of this story, Father Brown and his frequent police detective partner, Flambeau, find themselves in a German pub having a beer commenting on the fairy-tale aspects of the small town they are visiting. Flambeau tells Father Brown about the unsolved murder of Prince Otto.

Of course Father Brown listens, asks a few questions, then solves the twenty year-old mystery – all over a beer. When Father Brown tells his friend how the murder happened, he tells it in the form of a fairy-tale – and a rather good fairy-tale at that.

This story is included in G. K. Chesterton’s The Complete Stories of Father Brown. I read it when I selected the Seven of Hearts for Week 42 of my Deal Me In short story project. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

The Book of Lights

When I finished reading all of Chaim Potok’s novels for the first time in the early 2000’s, I considered his novel The Book of Lights my least favorite. In re-reading it, I think I’ve gained a better appreciation for it.

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Potok’s novels usually have an element that is uplifting as his protagonists struggle to figure out where they fit in to their world – leaving behind some aspect of their traditional faith or upbringing. In The Book of Lights, however, things are more bleak even if it does end on an affirming note.

As a rabbinical student in the 1950’s, Gerson Loran studies Kabbalah, mystical Jewish texts from medieval times – a topic not all of his professors feel is worthy of study. As he moves on from seminary to become a chaplain in Korea, he frequently sees visions and hears a voice from the “darkness” pointing out the sad state of affairs in which his century finds itself. Adding to his confusion, his experience in the Eastern world leads him to appreciate the beauty of God in what his tradition considers a pagan land:

Do you flee from the giants of your century, the great ones whose lights blind the eye and whose faults numb the heart? They fill you with hurt, with anger, with awe, do they not, these giants? They make ashes of great ideas, do they not? Do you flee to pagan worlds remote from the civilization of your teachers – to test their teachings? To escape their visions, their echoes, and the shadows that lie between what they are and what they teach? How far will you flee? Or are you done? Did your journey end in the fused light and darkness of the Macao brothel? I ask cruel questions of truth, Gershon. Truth. I come from the other side.

Gershon’s seminary roommate, Arthur Leiden, also struggles with the events of his century in that Arthur’s father helped develop the atomic bomb. And in an interesting twist, Arthur’s mother also had a hand in the United States’ decision to drop the bomb on Japan. Arthur’s struggles seem more self-destructive than Gershon’s questioning but both of their journey’s take them to Hiroshima where Arthur movingly says the Kaddish  at the Peace memorial – but the journey still doesn’t end.

While the voice out of the darkness could easily be only a literary device, Potok uses it to provide depth to the questions Gershon and Arthur ask. These questions are not just their own questions but questions for an entire generation. Questions that don’t come with any answers. Questions that produce the prevailing sadness of the entire novel.

 

Ray Bradbury: En La Noche (Deal Me In 2018 – Week 41)

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In the many, many wonderful stories written by Ray Bradbury, it’s okay in my opinion if there is one “klunker” and “En La Noche” might be that one.

A woman misses her husband (who joined the Army) so much that her crying at night keeps her entire apartment building awake. The other tenants get so frustrated that they nominate one of the men (they are all married) to go to the woman and – well – get her to stop crying. I’ll let you use your imagination as to how he might do that.

I guess the humor in the story comes from the wife of the nominee who doesn’t really care what her husband does – as long as she and their five children get some sleep.

It’s kind of funny and kind of cute but just not my favorite Bradbury story.

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I usually have trouble figuring out which paragraph or sentence to quote from a Bradbury story because every one of them is so great. That’s not the case, though, with this story. I’ll throw this one out there:

Silence lived in every room like a light turned off. Silence flowed like a cool wine in the tunnel halls. Silence came through the open casements like a cool breath from the cellar. They all stood breathing the coolness of it.

“En La Noche” is included in Bradbury’s collection A Sound of Thunder and Other Stories. I read it when I selected the Eight of Hearts for Week 41 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.