A Good Man Is Hard To Find: the rest of the stories

When the profane and the beautiful collide, you get a Flannery O’Connor story.  When human depravity is depicted in all it’s “glory”, you get another one.  And then if you read real closely and carefully, you find a small flicker of hope, of grace, of mercy, of redemption – but then you realize you found it in a story with a racial slur in the title.

A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories

I finished reading O’Connor’s short story collection A Good Man Is Hard To Find and Other Stories.  I posted about the first four here.  As a whole, I would say that her stories took my breath away, but it’s really more like they knocked the wind out of me.  I couldn’t help but laugh when Joy (she renamed herself Hulga), the female atheist with a Ph.D in philosophy and a wooden leg, meets up with a Bible salesman.  I wasn’t sure who would swindle who, but I wasn’t counting on what actually happened.  In another story, an ancient Civil War veteran appears at a movie premier in Atlanta.  O’Connor never reveals the movie, but I did the math and it could very well have been the premier of “Gone With The Wind”.  At another point, boys who could have been so innocent infest a farmhouse like cockroaches while a hired hand simply states “You can’t do a thing about it.”

After I finished it, I realized the collection ends in much the same way it began.  Whether it’s The Misfit or The Displaced Person, everyone in O’Connor’s stories seems to be a little (or a lot) out of sync.  Every once in a while, Jesus comes along and “throws everything out of balance”.

Willa Cather’s “The Enchanted Bluff”

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Not only is Willa Cather’s short story “The Enchanted Bluff” my favorite Cather story that I’ve read so far, it is a contender for favorite story this year.  She describes the river and landscape around Sandtown, Nebraska with vintage Cather detail and gives depth to the surroundings with the adventures and dreams of boyhood.

Willa Cather: 24 Stories

A group of local boys of varying ages spend their summers together camping and swimming along the river.  The boys are named by the unnamed narrator; however, there seemed to be so many of them that I couldn’t keep them straight in my mind.  This, though, only served to enhance the innocence of the times.

When one of the boys tells of an “Enchanted Bluff” in New Mexico where a tribe of cave-dwellers lived and how nobody had ever been able to climb to the top, an enduring dream is planted in their minds.  A dream that gets talked over and about from year to year.  Varying methods of how to get to the top take up their summer conversations.  Twenty years later, the narrator reveals that none of them had yet made it to New Mexico; however, some of the boys now had boys of their own and they were now drawn into the dream.

I enjoy the fact that the title has the word “Enchanted” in it.  Throughout the story, there is no magic, no fantasy-but yet the moments and conversations of the boys seem enchanted, magical in their own right.

An aspect of this story reminded me very much of Ray Bradbury’s autobiographical novel, Dandelion Wine.  In his novel, boyhood and summer go hand in hand just as in Cather’s story.  While Bradbury’s novel has what most of us would consider magic and fantasy,  I have to give Cather credit for creating her own world of enchantment with the landscapes of Nebraska and New Mexico and dreams shared by boyhood friends.

Quiet

A few years ago, at a company for which I no longer work, I was in a department training session.  We had the usual breaking up into small groups to brainstorm about a topic or idea.  We used the obligatory flip charts with markers that smell bad.  If I’ve done it once, I’ve done it a thousand times.  I don’t remember the specific topic, but one of the groups came up with a list of things to do and not do in order to be successful or to be a leader or some such vague business training term.  An item on this group’s list was “Don’t be an introvert”.  I winced a little at this because within the context of this training class, I knew they really weren’t using the technical definition of the word “introvert”.  I winced a little also  because, right or wrong definition, a part of their answer was right on the money, at least for that company and many others like it.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

Susan Cain’s recent book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking takes a look at our current Western world and culture and it’s Extrovert Ideal along with the potential problems it creates for the third of the population that are introverts.  Most of Cain’s book centers around the business world although she touches on relationships and parenting, also.

She tells some stories of how introverts have figured out how to make this personality trait work for them.  For some, they continue with a current job, just simply make some changes in office space and the amount of time they spend by themselves.  For others, it involved complete career changes that ended up for the better.  One of her points that I found intriguing involved introverts gaining extroverted traits when they are involved in something, a project or cause, that is deeply personal to them.  It’s difficult for introverts to fake a passion or pretend they are interested in something, when they are not.

Cain also presented studies and scientific information that have further helped us understand the differences between introverts and extroverts.  Much of the differences  involved the brain chemicals dopamine and seratonin, chemicals that also have an effect on depression and anti-depression.  While she mentions mental illness, I wondered to what degree depression could be blamed on introverts having to continuously act like extroverts.

A couple of my acquaintances who tend to read the latest business leadership books have stumbled upon this one.  I haven’t heard anything from them as to what they thought.  The book seems to be making at least a small splash.  I admit, though, I doubt how much of an impact it will have in the long run.  At least in my world, it seems extroverts rule.

Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut

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J. D. Salinger’s short story “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut” perhaps is not my favorite of Salinger’s stories, but as with any great writer, there are flashes of genius.

For me, the conversations between Mary Jane and Eloise, two former college roommates, gave a wonderful snapshot into the semi-high class society of 1940’s New York City and it’s suburbs.  I am assuming that the story took place in Connecticut but very close to New York City.  The women themselves talk in a slightly overbearing manner but neither are uncomfortable with the other.  Mary Jane has a career and Eloise has a family.  While they both sometimes question the other’s choices, they both take these questions in stride.  Maybe the free flow of alcohol accounts for some of this “stride”.

The strange part of the story deals with Eloise’s daughter Ramona and her imaginary friend, Jimmy Jimereeno.  Mary Jane goes out of her way to make Ramona and “Jimmy” feel comfortable; however, her mother seems to find Ramona’s ways difficult to handle.  There is a hint of racism on the part of Eloise toward her maid – but only a hint.  This is similar to Salinger’s story “Down at the Dinghy” where the racism is buried until the very end when it becomes subtly apparent.

Uncle Wiggily's Adventures

And then the even stranger part comes with the mention of Uncle Wiggily when one of the ladies relates a story about her hurt ankle and a former boyfriend.  Why Salinger brings Uncle Wiggily into the picture, I’m not sure.  I’m only vaguely familiar with Uncle Wiggily, who I believe was a rabbit in children’s’ stories.  I remember playing a very old version of a board game designed around Uncle Wiggily.    I’m still not sure, though, about his role in the story, unless it is simply an example of pop culture in the 1940’s.  Or perhaps it has something to do with the innocence (or loss thereof) of children – another theme Salinger intertwines into his writing.  Or there could be some kind of secret to the title that I just haven’t figured out.

I think I’m going to go with the representation of innocence and it’s loss.

This is the sixth story I’ve read from Salinger’s compilation,  Nine Stories.  Three more to go!  And these three are still “in the deck”.

Here is another post on this story by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.  It’s interesting that this story was his “King of Hearts” last year.  And also a thanks to him and his post for allowing me to not publish this post with “Uncle Wiggily” misspelled.

I’ll also use this story for a tie-in to my recent vacation.  I visited New York City for the first time.  I didn’t travel there by way of Connecticut, though.  It was Philly, across the Delaware River, then New Jersey to the Lincoln Tunnel and there was Manhattan – Times Square, Central Park – it was everything I thought it would be!

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

When Bono introduced Dierks Bentley singing his song “Home” last year at the Country Music Awards, he made the statement that America is not just geography or a country but an idea.  While Benjamin Franklin wasn’t the only “idea man or woman” among the Founders, one can’t help but give him a significant amount of credit for the idea of America.

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

As I stated in a previous post, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin probably ranks as the book that has been recommended to me the most but I somehow had never managed to read – until now.  I was expecting to like it.  Not only did it meet my expectations, it exceeded them.

For a book written over two hundred years ago, it surprised me at how readable it was.  Franklin gets straight to his many points and ideas.  I admit that I have a stereotype of 18th century American writers as those who feel the need to write pages and pages describing trees.  Franklin doesn’t fall into this category.

It’s interesting that many of his ideas described in this book are not necessarily patriotic in the sense that we may think, today.  Many of them are incredibly practical.  I loved his idea for cleaning dirt from the streets.  He decided that when it rained, the water needed to drain to the center of the street making a strong enough current to wash all the dirt away. Draining on each side made for weaker currents that just moved the dirt and dust around without getting rid of it.  How observant!

Since the book was never completed and he only takes himself up to around 1757, we don’t get much detail regarding those occasions that lead to the American Revolution.  However, one of the few references made to that time period involved his love of books and his pioneering of libraries:

These libraries have improved the general conversation of  the Americans, made the common tradesmen and farmers as intelligent as most gentlemen from other countries, and perhaps have contributed in some degree to the stand so generally made throughout the colonies in deference of their priveleges.

I was pleased to discover that much of his frugality for which Franklin has become famous helped him buy books that furthered his education and the education of those in his community.

Last week, my family took a trip to Philadelphia and toured many of the historical sites that played a part in creating the United States.  We walked through Christ Church cemetary and saw where Benjamin Franklin was buried (pictured below).  While freedom has been a long difficult process at times, I cannot help but be amazed at the ideas, the determination and the ingenuity of those that founded this country.

Crane’s “The Upturned Face”

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Stephen Crane’s short story “The Upturned Face” revolves around two soldiers burying a fallen comrade in the midst of battle.  I found interesting the fact that the dead soldier was named “Old Bill” and another soldier was named Timothy Lean.  The adjutant and two privates were not named even though they had as much of a role to play in the story as the other two.

While this story is not macabre in the typical sense of the word, the continuous focus on the  dead body almost puts it into that category.  The title referrs to how they buried “Old Bill” and the twinge of regret they have in burying him so quickly and without the care a proper burial would have required.  The reader might have to at least give them an “A” for effort.  They attempted to say a “service”.

The aspect of the story that will probably stick with me is the “plop” of the dirt going into the grave.  Crane managed to take such a simple word and put into it so much of the finality of life and at times the apparent meaninglessness of it.  The story is only about five pages.  While not exactly an uplifter, it doesn’t take long and I would say it’s worth the read.

The Portable Stephen Crane

Boo Boo Tannenbaum: An Admiral and a Lady

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J. D. Salinger’s short story, “Down at the Dinghy”, centers on Boo Boo Tannenbaum, the oldest daughter of the seven Glass children that frequently populate Salinger’s stories and novels.  I found this to be a pleasant surprise, as up until now, the stories about the Glass children that I’ve read have only mentioned her in passing.

Boo Boo is now an adult with a summer cottage on the lake and a four year-old son, Lionel. The story begins with the cottage hired-help (two older ladies) talking about the issue of Lionel frequently running away.  As Boo Boo enters the scene, she indicates that Lionel is now hiding out in the dinghy on the lake.

Nine Stories

The scene switches to Boo Boo and her son having a conversation at the dinghy.  The grace, poise and strength Boo Boo possesses as she figures out why her son has run away this time adds to the depth with which Salinger paints his Glass family portrait.  He throws in just enough motherly frustration to keep it real.  During this conversation, Boo Boo alludes to her time in the Navy and Lionel seems fascinated with the fact that she was an Admiral and a lady.  I recall from Raise High The Roofbeam, Carpenters that Boo Boo missed her brother Seymour’s wedding because of World War II.  Lionel’s Uncle Seymour is mentioned briefly by his mother.

As the conversation , and the story, finishes, Salinger reveals to the reader why Lionel was hiding in the dinghy.  I really would not consider it a spoiler if I mentioned the reason here; however, I don’t think I’ll do that and encourage anyone reading this to read the story themselves.  It’s not very long; and while it may not be my favorite Salinger story, there is something hidden in Boo Boo’s character that keeps me thinking about her and the Glass clan.

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