Ray Bradbury: Yes, We’ll Gather At The River

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I selected the Five of Spades for Week 44 of my Deal Me In Short Story Project for 2014.  I’ve been anxiously awaiting more Ray Bradbury stories and I finally got one: “Yes, We’ll Gather At The River”.

The life of a small town, the death of a small town, life after the death of a small town – all of these combine to make a pleasant, but slightly melancholy, story that addresses both the sadness that can come with the effects of industry and technology and the perseverance of the human spirit in the face of a changing world.

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Charles Moore closes his tobacco shop and walks down the street of his small town – past the barber shop, the taxidermy shop, the garage, the church.  He joins a friend who mentions an old church hymn, Yes, We’ll Gather At The River.  Their small town is coming to an end due to the ever expanding Los Angeles highway system.  The hymn reflects the theme of life after death.  Most of the people of the town know that their lives will not end when the town ends.  But a part of them will die.

As Charlie sits with his wife during their last evening as a town, he smokes his pipe.  It’s easy to smell the tobacco, a scent I love even if I’ve never smoked it.  Bradbury puts significant depth into this one act:

He lit his pipe and blew great clouds of smoke in which to poke for past mistakes and present revelations.

The story ends with one of the more moving images I’ve read in a while.  It’s not a surprise ending.  It’s not a plot twist.  But I believe it’s a scene a reader needs to experience for themselves.  I highly recommend this short story – and it is short, easy to read in one sitting.

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

 

Robert Louis Stevenson: The Merry Men

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In drawing the Ten of Hearts this week for my Deal Me In 2014 project, I read Robert Louis Stevenson’s story “The Merry Men”.  From what I’ve read of Stevenson, I know his stories’ themes can be about both the good and the evil in a human being (e.g., Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde).  Ships and the ocean play a prominent role in his more well-known stories (e. g., Treasure Island).  “The Merry Men” join both of these characteristics – and it doesn’t have anything to do with Robin Hood.

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Charles heads to his family home, Aros, off the coast of Scotland, as well as to his Uncle Gordon Darnaway and his cousin Mary.  But he also has another reason for the visit:  to look for buried treasure from the sinking of the ship Espirito Santo.   His initial visit with his relatives finds him hearing the story of another, more recent ship that sank near Aros – the Christ-Anna.  The cause of these ocean tragedies is a rock formation known as “The Merry Men”.  Do these rocks possess some sort of evil that comes from the ocean?  They have had an effect on Charles’ Uncle Gordon.  After reading a Psalm from the Old Testament, Gordon makes a chilling observation:

Maybe Dauvit wasna very weel acquaint wi’ the sea.  But troth, if it wasna the Lord, but the muckle, black deil that made the sea.

The ocean continues to bring Gordon to the brink of insanity when a severe storm crashes yet another ship on “The Merry Men”.  The fascination with which Gordon watches the horror reminds me of King Lear’s descent into madness.  The contrast between the evils of the sea and the very religious names of the ships makes for interesting thoughts on what Stevenson was trying to convey with his story.  I’m not sure the ending gives any firm conclusions to the author’s motives.

While the story is enjoyable enough, I have to continue to recommend Herman Melville for philosophical and theological stories about ships and oceans.  In addition, the thick Scottish accent of Uncle Gordon makes for some slow reading.  But if one is looking for a story that is a little scary, a little adventurous – and fun – this might be the one.

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

Salman Rushdie: Christopher Columbus and Queen Isabella of Spain Consummate Their Relationship (Santa Fe, AD 1492)

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For Week 42 of my Deal Me In 2014 project, I drew my third wild card, the Two of Hearts.  I chose a short story from Salman Rushdie’s collection East, West: Stories.  The collection contains nine stories: three relating to the Eastern world, three the Western world and three that are a combination of the two.  The story I selected is from the West section: “Christopher Columbus and Queen Isabella of Spain Consummate Their Relationship (Sante Fe, AD 1492).”  My Deal Me In 2014 list can be seen here.  DMI is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

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I am amazed at how well Rushdie develops his fictional characters of Christopher Columbus and Queen Isabella of Spain in so few pages.  I think the title is longer than the actual story.

He portrays Queen Isabella with all of the emotional complexities that come with being an absolute monarch set on taking over the world – known or unknown.  Christopher Columbus is suave and sophisticated on the outside.  Inside, he is the crazy person wandering in the wilderness wanting to sail off the edge of the world.

What does Columbus request of Queen Isabella?  Consummation.  Is it consummation of a business deal that will give him the means to accomplish his mission to the world’s edge?  Is it the more traditional, well-known meaning of consummation?  That’s the question and there is no exact answer.  Does it matter?

History has given us the answer to the business deal question.  Read the story (it’ll take twenty minutes) to see about the answer to the other one.

In spite of the subject matter, Rushdie handles the story very delicately and perhaps even modestly.  A sweetness exists to the relationship between the two historical figures – a sweetness in a world-domination sort of way.

Ernest Hemingway: Now I Lay Me

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Ernest Hemingway’s short story “Now I Lay Me” is another Nick Adams story.  This one is set during the war.  During the night, Nick attempts to keep himself awake for fear the dark will take his soul.  I read this story for Week 41 of my Deal Me In 2014 project.  My Deal Me In 2014 list can be seen here.  DMI is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

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Through the night, Nick wanders in his mind from subject to subject.  First, he thinks about fishing trips, both real and imagined.  Next, he determines to pray for everyone he knows.   He remembers his grandfather’s attic and what seems to be a disagreement between his parents in regard to the attic’s contents.  As he realizes his roommate is awake, he talks to him for a while until his friend dozes off.  His friend gives him the idea of thinking about all of the girls he has known and what kind of wives they would make, along with the advice that Nick needs to find a wife.

From all of these mind travels, I get the distinct impression that Nick wasn’t just trying to find reasons to stay awake but trying to find a purpose to life.  I think it’s telling that he revisits one of these topics.  It’s not prayer, family or marriage.

When I think about humorous writers, I don’t think of Hemingway.  It’s hard for me to imagine him cracking up the audience down at “The Funny Bone”.  But while reading this story,  I couldn’t help but think of Brad Paisley’s funny little tune I’m Gonna Miss Her (The Fishin’ Song).

Dorothy Parker: The Waltz

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We’re already up to Week 40 in the Deal Me In 2014 short story project and the Seven of Diamonds brought me to Dorothy Parker’s “The Waltz”.  This is the first time I’ve read anything by Parker but I don’t think it will be the last.  My Deal Me In 2014 list can be seen here.  DMI is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

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“The Waltz” is a glance at a young lady (I think she’s relatively young) and her thoughts as she dances with a gentleman at a party. We get to “hear” what she says out loud to the man because it’s in italics. This is only a small part of the story. The real part is the rest of it in which she expresses silently to herself (and to the reader) what she really thinks.

Of course this provides huge laughs in Parker’s Southern style because what is said out loud is drastically different from what is thought.  The story is well worth reading for the humor and doesn’t take a long time to get through.  While it was written for the New Yorker in 1933, I couldn’t help thinking of Jane Austen situations.  The significance of “The Waltz” apart from it’s funny side most likely comes from the circumstances in which many women have found themselves over the years, decades and centuries where they must pretend  to be something they are not.  The man in the story doesn’t really say or think much.  He doesn’t have to.

Here’s a snippet of the lady’s thoughts when she replies out loud that she would love to dance:

What can you say, when a man asks you to dance with him?  I most certainly will not dance with you, I’ll see you in hell first…Oh, yes, do let’s dance together.  It’s so nice to meet a man who isn’t a scaredy-cat about catching my beri-beri.

I confess I was a little afraid to find out what beri-beri was.