Saul Bellow: A Father-To-Be (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 34)

4♥ 4♥ 4♥ 4♥4♥ 4♥ 4♥ 4♥

Thoughts very often grow fertile in the subway, because of the motion, the great company, the subtlety of the rider’s state as he rattles under streets and rivers, under the foundations of great buildings, and Rogin’s mind had already been strangely stimulated.

A couple years ago I read my first short story by Saul Bellow “A Silver Dish”   and its remained a favorite ever since. So for Week 34 of my Deal Me In 2017 short story project, I selected the Four of Hearts which corresponds to another Saul Bellow story “A Father-to Be”. And it lives up to the reputation of that first story.

Wonderful Town

Rogin is coming home from work deep in thought about his fiance, Joan, her family and friends, his work and life in general. This story is true stream of consiousness. As he makes his way on to the subway, his thoughts turn toward the other passengers until he sets his sight on a man he decides could be his son in forty years. His thoughts may not be funny in and of themselves but the reader can’t help but laugh at the in-depth, detailed ideas that Rogin has about this man while the man himself has absolutely no clue what Rogin is thinking. All of the thinking on Rogin’s part contrasted with what is actual silence between the two passengers makes for an amusing scene.

This story gives a new meaning to the term “people watching” and it also makes one wonder what others might be thinking as they watch you. There have probably been stranger thoughts than Rogin’s.

This story is included in my copy of Wonderful Town: New York Stories from The New Yorker edited by David Remnick. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

It took me longer than I anticipated to finish F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel Tender is the Night, but I finally did and maybe now I can get the Jackson Browne song of the same name out of my head.

Tender is the Night

Tender is the Night is Fitzgerald’s fourth and final completed novel and according to Maureen Corrigan in her book So We Read On, it has a passionate but small following of fans that consider it to be his best even though it typically gets overshadowed by The Great Gatsby. 

The novel’s central couple consist of psychiatrist Dick Diver and his wife, Nicole, who suffers from mental illness. Knowing the types of couples Fitzgerald tends to include in his novels, in addition to the fact that Nicole had once been Dick’s patient, it’s not surprising that this relationship is troubled.

It’s been said that this novel is considered “feminist” so, while reading, I was looking out for what might make one think that. There is gut-wrenching abuse suffered by Nicole as a child and then, her husband, fully aware of this abuse, occasionally wanders off to follow much younger girls. Does this make the novel feminist? I don’t know but it makes it depressing – until the end. And while the end may not be happy in the traditional sense, it was a breath of fresh air for Nicole. Maybe this is the feminist aspect of the novel? In fact, here is what I would consider one of the more hopeful endings from one of these post-World War I, American authors that suffers from disillusionment. I found myself very happy for Nicole.

And of course, we have Fitzgerald’s beautiful and ornate writing which doesn’t get much better than in this novel. I could choose from any number of paragraphs but here are two that give one a feel for the Divers:

She smiled at him, making sure that the smile gathered up everything inside her and directed it toward him, making him a profound promise of herself for so little, for the beat of a response, the assurance of a complimentary vibration in him. Minute by minute the sweetness drained down into her out of the willow trees, out of the dark world.

Many times he had tried unsuccessfully to let go his hold on her. They had many fine times together, fine talks between the loves of the white nights, but always when he turned away from her into himself he left her holding Nothing in her hands and staring at it, calling it many names, but knowing it was only the hope that he would come back soon.

Fitzgerald

Which is better? Tender is the Night or The Great Gatsby? From a literary perspective, I am sure that many could make a claim for either one. From my personal taste, I’ll go with Gatsby. While Tender may have the complex characters and an actual happy ending for one of them, I think the simplicity of Gatsby’s story makes it more universal.

 

 

 

 

 

Silas House: Total Immersion (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 33)

10♣ 10♣ 10♣ 10♣ 10♣ 10♣ 10♣ 10♣

Still she wants this. She wants a change, and in a town like Black Banks, this is the most you can change. There are only two kinds of people here: sinners and Christians. She wants to try a new crowd.

Referred to as “The Whore of Black Banks” by town’s people (and her daughter), Liz goes to church and gets saved in Silas House’s short story “Total Immersion”. Much of the story involves Liz telling her work friends who hang out at The Spot, the local honky-tonk, and Bruce, the married man with whom she is having an affair. The reactions range from disbelief to ridicule.

Degrees of Elevation

The story is best when Liz is sincerely contemplating her spiritual life – when she is actually honest with herself about her doubts about this whole church thing. House never makes fun of Liz’s ideas or decisions even while he presents them as something out of the ordinary, something unexpected.

The story ends with Liz’s baptism – hopeful but realistic. Well, I suppose this could be a spoiler alert, but it ends with part of a baptism. The pastor takes her under the water but the story ends before he brings her back up. Now, I believe there is every evidence that the pastor eventually (that may not be the right word) brings her back up. House just curiously chooses to end the story before he does:

She feels like she could lie there in that water from now on. She can hear the river moving beside her ears, like time, like death, like every bad thing she has done her whole life. She can taste the water (mossy, sandy- like the underside of a rock way up in the shadiest part of the mountains) that seeps in between the pastor’s big fingers.

She is under so long that she has time to open her eyes. And all she can see is light, slanting down onto the river’s surface.

Silas House is a well-known Kentucky author and often makes appearances at my local library. I’ve never had the chance to hear him speak and this is the first of his work that I’ve read. Based on this story, I would be interested in reading more of his work. This story is included in my copy of Degrees of Elevation: Short Stories of Contemporary Appalachia edited by Charles Dodd White and Page Seay. I read it when I selected the Ten of Clubs for Week 33 of my Deal Me In 2017 short story project. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

 

Steven Millhauser: Eisenheim The Illusionist (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 32)

2♥ 2♥ 2♥ 2♥ 2♥ 2♥ 2♥ 2♥

Now, it is well known among magicians and mediums that a canvas of unbleached muslin may be painted with chemical solutions that appear invisible when dry; if sulphate of iron is used for blue, nitrate of bismuth for yellow, and copper sulphate for brown, the picture will appear if sprayed with a weak solution of prussiate of potash.

Only Steven Millhauser’s detailed wordsmithing could make the technical behind-the-scenes aspect of a magic trick seem, well, magical. Blending the natural and the supernatural is not uncommon in fiction but Millhauser does it exceptionally well in “Eisenheim the Illusionist” and he tops it all off by making it character driven:

Eisenheim’s nature was like that: he proceeded slowly and cautiously, step by step, and then as if he had earned the right to be daring, he would take a sudden leap.

As Eisenheim’s career and fame grow, the reader can’t help but ask the question from where are his increasingly dramatic illusions originating. Millhauser plants those seeds in the reader’s mind when he explains some of the tricks at the beginning of the illusionist’s career. There is always that thought that something natural is explaining what looks supernatural – even when the reader stops getting the explanations, even when the possibility of “higher powers” is introduced. At the same time, though, whether Eisenheim is simply an expert trickster or something more, Millhauser never brushes away the mystery:

All agreed that is was a sign of the times; and as precise memories faded, and the everyday world of coffee cups, doctors’ visits, and war rumors returned, a secret relief penetrated the souls of the faithful, who knew that the Master had passed safely out of the crumbling order of history into the indestructible realm of mystery and dream.

barnum

“Eisenheim the Illusionist” is included in Steven Millhauser’s collection The Barnum Museum. I read it when I selected my third Wild Card, the Two of Hearts, for Week 32 of my Deal Me In 2017 short story project. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

 

 

The “100 Books the BBC Think Most People Haven’t Read More Than 6 Of” Tag

I haven’t done tags in a while but I came across this one at Hamlette the Dame’s blog The Edge of the Precipice The BBC doesn’t think people have read more than 6 of the books on the list below. I thought it would be fun and interesting to find out just how many of these have been read by those in the book blogosphere. Here are the rules which I’m bending just a little bit:

1. Be honest.
2. Put an asterisk next to the ones you have read all the way through  (I’m highlighting them in red). Put an addition sign next to the ones you have started (I’m highlighting them in green).
3. Tag as many people as there are books on the list that you have read (I’m leaving it open to whoever wants to do this).

Here’s the list:

1. Pride and Prejudice– Jane Austen 
2. Gormenghast Trilogy– Mervyn Peake
3. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
4. Temple of the Golden Pavilion – Yukio Mishima
5. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
6. The Story of the Eye – George Bataille
7. Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë
8. Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
9. Adrift on the Nile – Naguib Mahfouz
10. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
11. Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
12. Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
13. Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
14. Rhinoceros – Eugene Ionesco
15. Baron in the Trees – Italo Calvino
16. The Master of Go – Yasunari Kawabata
17. Woman in the Dunes – Abe Kobo
18. The Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
19. The Feast of the Goat – Mario Vargas Llosa
20. Middlemarch – George Eliot

Catcher

21. Gogol’s Wife– Tomasso Landolfi
22. The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
23. Magic Mountain – Thomas Mann
24. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
25. Ferdydurke – Gombrowicz
26. Narcissus and Goldmund – Herman Hesse
27. Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28. The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
29. Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
30. The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
31. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
32. The Jungle – Upton Sinclair
33. Tom Sawyer / Huck Finn – Mark Twain
34. Emma – Jane Austen
35. Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe
36. Delta Wedding – Eudora Welty
37. The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini 
38. Naomi – Junichiro Tanizaki
39. Cosmicomics – Italo Calvino
40. The Joke – Milan Kundera

gatsby

41. Animal Farm– George Orwell
42. Labyrinths – Gorge Luis Borges
43. One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44. A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving 
45. Under My Skin – Doris Lessing
46. Anne of Green Gables – L. M. Montgomery
47. Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
48. Don Quixote – Miguel Cervantes
49. Lord of the Flies – William Golding
50. Absalom Absalom – William Faulkner
51. Beloved – Toni Morrison
52. The Flounder – Gunther Grass
53. Dead Souls – Nikolai Gogol
54. Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
55. My Name is Red – Orhan Pamuk
56. A Dolls House – Henrik Ibsen
57. A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
58. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
59. The Idiot – Fyodor Dostoevesky
60. Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Heller

61. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
62. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
63.Leaves of Grass – Walt Whitman
64. Death on the Installment Plan – Louis-Ferdinand Celine
65. The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
66. On The Road – Jack Kerouac
67. Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
68. Pedro Paramo – Juan Rulfo
69. Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
70. Moby Dick – Herman Melville
71. Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
72. Dracula – Bram Stoker
73. The Metamorphosis – Kafka
74. Epitaph of a Small Winner – Machado De Assis
75. Ulysses – James Joyce
76. The Inferno – Dante
77. Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
78. Germinal – Emile Zola
79. To the Light House – Virginia Woolf 
80. Disgrace – John Maxwell Coetzee

Camus

81. A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
82. Zorba the Greek – Nikos Kazantzakis
83. The Color Purple– Alice Walker
84. The Box Man – Abe Kobo
85. Madame Bovary– Gustave Flaubert
86. A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
87. The Stranger – Albert Camus
88. Acquainted with the Night – Heinrich Boll
89. Don’t Call It Night – Amos Oz
90. The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
91. Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
92. The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93. Gravity’s Rainbow – Thomas Pychon
94. Memoirs of Hadrian – Marguerite Yourcenar
95. A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
96. Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe
97. The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
98. Hamlet – William Shakespeare
99. Faust – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
100. Metamorphosis – Ovid

So there you have it! I’ve read 40 (started 3 – I wonder if I will ever go back and finish those?). There are 24 on the list that I’ve never heard of. I would be curious as to how the list was established, also. There is no Hemingway and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are on the list as one book (I counted them as two).

How many have you read? I’m guessing most of the book bloggers I know have read more than 6.

 

Pinckney Benedict: Town Smokes (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 31)

9♣ 9♣ 9♣ 9♣ 9♣ 9♣ 9♣ 9♣

Once again I find a story in which tobacco and cigarettes make more than just an appearance. One might actually consider them to be a literary motif. In Pinckney Benedict’s “Town Smokes”, the fifteen year-old male narrator walks from his recently buried father into town for cigarettes. During the short journey, his mind fills with memories and he encounters a brief conflict with pig hunters. But the goal is the cigarettes.

One memory of his father is particularly interesting:

The Gideon’s is old and slippery in my hand and missen many pages. My daddy has used it for a lot of years. The paper is thin and fine for rollen your own; if you are good you can get two smokes to the page. As I say, he was not a heavy smoker and he is not even gotten up to the New Testament yet, just somewhere in Jeremiah.

The cigarettes are something other than an addiction for Benedict’s narrator. For better or worse, good or bad, they give the narrator purpose. Ending the story with the boy sitting on a bridge smoking, contemplating the tragedy of his world, makes for one of the nicest scenes I’ve read in a while.

Town Smokes

I’ve never smoked and don’t have any plans to start but smoking can provide quite the emotional impact to a story. This is another one vying for favorite of the year. It is included in Pinckney Benedict’s anthology of the same name which I borrowed from my public library. I read it when I selected the Nine of Clubs for Week 31 of my Deal Me In 2017 short story project. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Mark Twain’s “Luck”

In the case of Mark Twain’s “Luck”, the one-word title actually has something to do with the story. The story leaves a lot of questions, though. A much-decorated military figure is being honored while a clergyman at the event explains to the narrator that the honoree is only where he is by sheer luck because he is actually a “fool”.

mark-twain

Who is the real “sham”? The acclaimed leader or the clergyman? And who does Twain consider the real “sham”? That’s the question I find intriguing but for which I find no real answer.