Posted in Short Stories

Jack London: An Odyssey of the North

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‘There be things greater than our wisdom, beyond our justice. The right and the wrong of this we cannot say, and it is not for us to judge.’ Naass drew yet closer to the fire. There was a great silence, and in each man’s eyes many pictures came and went.

Just in time for the warm weather finally getting to my part of the country, I pick the Seven of Hearts and read Jack London’s story “An Odyssey of the North”.   The North, with all of its rugged cold and desolate landscape, gets the vintage London treatment.  His stories are great but I think I’ve grown to appreciate London’s ability to describe his settings and characters.


In “An Odyssey of the North”, London’s recurring character The Malamute Kid makes an appearance; however, I wouldn’t call him a central character.  He’s more of a listener.  He and his compatriot of the sled, Prince, encounter a man native to the North with a mysterious air about him.  While ultimately the reader finds out the stranger’s name is Naass, during the first part of the story, he’s known as “He of the Otter Skins”.  As the stranger introduces two of his traveling mates, Axel Gunderson and his wife, Unga, London provides a great description of Gunderson:

As has been noted, in the making of Axel Gunderson the gods had remembered their old- time cunning and cast him after the manner of men who were born when the world was young. Full seven feet he towered in his picturesque costume which marked a king of Eldorado. His chest, neck, and limbs were those of a giant. To bear his three hundred pounds of bone and muscle, his snowshoes were greater by a generous yard than those of other men. Rough-hewn, with rugged brow and massive jaw and unflinching eyes of palest blue, his face told the tale of one who knew but the law of might. Of the yellow of ripe corn silk, his frost-incrusted hair swept like day across the night and fell far down his coat of bearskin.

The second half of the story involves another story and another encounter between The Malamute Kid and Naass.  As Naass explains his life and how he met Gunderson and Unga, London reveals part of the Naass mystery.  London’s usual “humanity vs. nature” conflict gets woven into Naass’ story.  A little “humanity vs. humanity” gets thrown in, also.

My Deal Me In 2014 list can be seen here.  DMI is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.







Posted in Fiction

The Count of Monte Cristo -“wait and hope”

I finally finished Alexandre Dumas’ novel The Count of Monte Cristo.  While I, by no means, have any regrets spending so much time reading this, I doubt that I’ll be in the mood to read a book of more than about 400 pages any time in the near future.  But that being said, this novel ranks up there as a favorite.


This isn’t the first novel that I’ve read that originally was written in serial format, but this is the first one in which I could easily see how it could be separated into small pieces that could get readers hooked on the story and get them coming back for more.  Since I’ve finished it, I’ve wondered what kind of experience it would have been if I had read only a chapter a week.  Whenever I decide to read The Three Musketeers, I might try that.  I don’t think it would be that different from watching a serial television show such as Lost for six seasons.  The more things change – the more they stay the same.

I could sum up the theme of Monte Cristo in one word: revenge.  The plot revolves around Edmond Dantes’ efforts over several decades to give his betrayers what they deserve.  Throughout the novel, questions arise as to how much vengeance is due to Dantes’ own attempts, how much is the result of the betrayers, themselves, and how much is simply due to Providence, Fate or Destiny (all three of those words are used at various points).  It’s interesting that Destiny vs. Free-will was also a theme of Lost.  As one might expect, no specific answer to any of these questions is given in the novel.  Instead, each gets masterfully woven into the intricate storyline.

In spite of Dante’s vengeance overseeing the plot, redemption and forgiveness are not far behind.  While not planned, I happened to finish this book on Easter Sunday.  It’s final message of “wait and hope” seemed fitting.

My previous post about this novel when I was at the half-way mark is here.



Posted in Short Stories

Graham Greene: The End of the Party

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I’m becoming impressed with Graham Greene’s humor.  Earlier, I read “The Branch of the Service” and it continues to be the funniest story I’ve read this year.  For Week 16 of my Deal Me In 2014 project, the 10 of spades brought me to another one of Greene’s stories, “The End of the Party”, and it’s proven to be almost as comedic as the previous one although I would probably categorize the humor as “dark”, both literally and figuratively.


Francis and Peter Morton are pre-adolescent twin brothers who wake up on January 5th to realize that it’s time for a neighbor’s birthday party.  While Peter isn’t exactly thrilled about going, Francis has already had terrifying dreams about the impending party.  While some of the terrors include the usual – teenage girls, for example, his true fear comes from the knowledge that they will play a game after the sun goes down.  All of the lights in the house will be turned off in order to play the dreaded “hide and seek in the dark”.

Francis attempts every excuse he can think of to miss the party, but they all fall through.  Peter’s special bond as a twin lets him know exactly how Francis is feeling even if the exact words aren’t exchanged between the two.  I thought Greene skillfully deals with this aspect of the brothers’ relationship in a manner that is realistic but also outside the ordinary.  Their give and take with each other isn’t fantasy or science fiction, but its unique and special and one might even say it’s powerful: “Instinct told him he was near the wall, and, extending a hand, he laid fingers across his brother’s face.  Francis did not cry out, but the leap of his own heart revealed to Peter a proportion of Francis’s terror.”

The resolution of Francis’ fear lends an understatement to the story’s title that is creepy – and hilarious.

My Deal Me In 2014 list can be seen here.  DMI is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.  This story can be found on-line here.


Posted in Short Stories

Ray Bradbury: Kaleidoscope

4♠  4♠  4♠  4♠  4♠  4♠  4♠  4♠

Space, distance, speed, screaming, lost appendages…and regrets – all get included in Ray Bradbury’s story “Kaleidoscope” which has a lineup of characters similar to the baseball story I read last week.  Of course, the lineup is a group of astronauts instead of baseball players and they were easier to keep track of.


Bradbury’s use of words amazes me.  The premise of this story is one that could easily be made into a movie with lots of special effects (actually, a movie has been made recently that is similar to this story – with lots of special effects).  I don’t know what Bradbury would think of his stories being filmed.  He may not have been completely against it, but I get the feeling that he would have been a man of words first – then maybe pictures.  But back to words – Bradbury manages to create what movie wizardry creates, but he does it with only words.  With only words, he blends comedy, tragedy, horror and…regrets.  With only words, he puts human faces on a space story.

It may sound cliche, but I would consider this story a “feast for the imagination”.  The natural world of space takes center stage and the descriptions are beautiful, but this doesn’t come at the expense of heart, emotion, psychology…or regrets.  The next time I see a shooting star, I won’t be able to help but think of this story.

Posted in Short Stories

Zane Grey: The Redheaded Outfield

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Just in time for Opening Day week I pick the Five of Hearts which leads me to “The Redheaded Outfield”, a baseball story by Zane Grey.  Though the story was fun to read, if someone isn’t a baseball fan, I’m not sure they would get much out of it and I doubt they would be motivated to read more baseball stories.  It’s a little on the folksy side and the number of players taking part in the narrative could be overwhelming.  I gave up trying to figure out who Babcock, Delaney, White, Dorr, Dump Kane, Morrisey and Healy were and whether they played for the Rochester  Grays or the Providence Stars.  The three prominent players for the Rochester Grays, Red Gilbat, Reddie Clammer and Reddie Ray, and also the title characters, were a little easier to keep track.  Much of the narrative goes like this:

Hitting safely, he started the game with a rush. With Dorr up, the Star infield played for a bunt. Like clockwork Dorr dumped the first ball as Blake got his flying start for second base. Morrissey tore in for the ball, got it on the run and snapped it underhand to Healy, beating the runner by an inch. The fast Blake, with a long slide, made third base. The stands stamped. The bleachers howled. White, next man up, batted a high fly to left field. This was a sun field and the hardest to play in the league. Red Gilbat was the only man who ever played it well. He judged the fly, waited under it, took a step hack, then forward, and deliberately caught the ball in his gloved hand. A throw-in to catch the runner scoring from third base would have been futile, but it was not like Red Gilbat to fail to try. He tossed the ball to O’Brien. And Blake scored amid applause.

The bulk of the story is the single game between the two teams which remains close for the entire story.  The redheaded players perform a few antics and, yes, one team wins.

I don’t consider Zane Grey to be a great writer based on this story.  He has a few other baseball stories (of which one more is on my Deal Me In 2014 roster – DMI is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis) but I think Grey is better known for his stories of the American West – specifically, Riders of the Purple Sage.  I’ve never had a large interest in these types of tales although I’ve been known to enjoy a John Wayne movie from time to time and I like Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven.  Maybe someday I’ll read one of Grey’s Westerns but, for now, I’m content to read another baseball story whenever the luck of the draw determines the time.