Posted in Short Stories

The Double Life of Zoe Flynn by Janet Lee Carey

Occasionally, I’ve been known to go outside my usual genres and read a YA novel or even what would be considered a “kid’s book”.  A little while ago, James over at James Reads Books posted about Janet Lee Carey’s The Double Life of Zoe Flynn. His post prompted me to find it at the library and I’m glad I did.  A long time ago, I came to the conclusion that a good story is a good story even if I’m not in the perceived target audience and this novel serves as additional evidence.


The basic premise of Zoe Flynn involves her family having to move to another state as her father has lost his job and can’t pay the rent.  He finds another job in another state; however, Zoe and her family have to live in their van while they save enough money to live somewhere else.

Having moved, myself, a number of times as a kid, the fear and emotion of nothing ever being the same again rang true. The idea that “you can’t go home again” struck a chord with me, as well.  Zoe’s adventures in her new town and her inability to tell anyone where she lives come together for a story that is poignant and fun.

I enjoyed the manner in which Carey portrays Zoe’s father as talented – a former rock musician, a former bookstore owner, and a current English professor – but with skills that are not quite marketable.  I’ve often struggled with why those who have skills of the artistic variety have to find it so difficult to make a living.

Carey also includes a slight (very slight) mystery involving a girl in Zoe’s new town named Julia.  While readers will most likely realize the answer to this mystery sooner than Zoe does, her realization still works well within the context of the narrative.

Overall, I liked walking along with Zoe as she attempts to find home again.

Posted in Short Stories

Eudora Welty: The Worn Path


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Her name was Phoenix Jackson.  She was very old and small and she walked slowly in the dark pine shadows, moving a little from side to side in her steps, with the balanced heaviness and lightness of a pendulum in a grandfather clock.

It’s already the halfway point of Deal Me In 2015.  For Week 26, I drew the Ace of Hearts and read “The Worn Path”, the first story I’ve read by Eudora Welty.  My Deal Me In 2015 list can be seen here. Deal Me In 2015 is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Phoenix Jackson, an elderly African-American woman, makes her way through the woods on a path that she obviously has walked before.  She runs into a hunter, keeps a stray dog at bay with her walking stick, crosses over a creek via a log and keeps an overall pleasant disposition.  The reader can almost see the twinkle in her eye and the smile on her face.

The reader isn’t given the reason for her walk or her destination until the end.  While this revelation does not make for a plot twist and knowing the ending or not knowing doesn’t necessarily make the story any different or less enjoyable; however, I won’t give away this part of the story and let readers find out for themselves.

Welty does not overtly tackle the topic of racism in this story but in every step Phoenix makes, the author puts strength and dignity to Phoenix’s character.  A strength and dignity that has come from the wearing down of this path, from a journey that is not always easy.


Posted in Short Stories

Bradbury of the Month: June – The Flying Machine

It’s already June and that means I’m half-way through “Bradbury of the Month”, my first Annual Featured Author.  For this month, I picked Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Flying Machine”.  A title like this won’t come as a surprise for anyone who has read much of Bradbury’s short stories and novels.  For me, what did come as a surprise is that it’s a well-crafted Chinese fairly tale.


A Chinese emperor in A.D.400 becomes aware, by way of a servant, that one of his subjects can fly.  As the emperor watches the man flying he understands the beauty of it.  At the same time, something about this beauty threatens him.  The reasons that power tends to stamp out beauty becomes the themes of the story and raises great questions about art and government.  I feel like I say this every month, but I think “The Flying Machine” could be my favorite Bradbury story that I’ve read this year.  And one of his best all around.

Of course, as usual, I had to think about which passage from the story I should post here. There are so many to choose from but I finally decided on this one:

And in the sky, laughing so high that you could hardly hear him laugh, was a man; and the man was clothed in bright papers and reeds to make wings and a beautiful yellow tail, and he was soaring all about like the largest bird in a universe of birds, like a new dragon in a land of ancient dragons.

Posted in Short Stories

John Updike: Tomorrow and Tomorrow and So Forth


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One aspect of the television show E.R. that I always thought interesting was the way the writers, in many story lines,  would only let the viewers see what a real Emergency Room staff would see. The viewers would not know much about a patient’s background except what they would tell the doctors and nurses.  In the same manner, viewers usually never knew what happened to patients when they left the hospital.

John Updike

I was reminded of this in reading John Updike’s short story “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and So Forth” this week.  While it’s not set in a hospital, it’s set in a high school classroom, the reader only gets to know the students through the point of view of the teacher, Mark Prosser, and his thoughts are focused on one class.

Given the title, it didn’t come as a surprise that Prosser is an English teacher and this specific class concentrates on Shakespeare’s MacBeth and the title character’s famous soliloquy.  I recall having to memorize it for my 11th grade English class.  Prosser approaches the class with a little knowledge and much nervousness.  His lack of confidence coincides nicely with the students’ questions.  Though it might sound like a cliche, I couldn’t help but smile when a student asks why MacBeth stopped in the middle of a war to make this big long speech to himself.  This only enhances Prosser’s feelings of inadequacy:

Mark winced, pierced by the awful clarity with which his students saw him.  Through their eyes, how queer he looked, with his chalky hands, and his horn-rimmed glasses, and his hair never slicked down, all wrapped up in “literature,” where, when things get rough, the king mumbles a poem nobody understands.

The reader never knows what actually happens to any of the students after the bell rings for the end of class.  Updike uses Prosser’s honesty in a manner that makes the teacher understandable and likeable as opposed to being a weakling.  My guess would be that Prosser is not the students’ favorite teacher but he’s probably not the most hated, either. This story corresponded to the Nine of Hearts which I selected for Week 25 of my Deal Me In 2015 short story project.  My Deal Me In 2015 list can be seen here. Deal Me In 2015 is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Posted in Short Stories

Washington Irving: Rip Van Winkle


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These are things I remember from the first time I read Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle” about eight years ago:

– Rip Van Winkle has quite the shrew for a wife. This is a fact that isn’t necessarily included in many of the children’s versions of the stories that are out there.  Rip easily accepts his twenty-year nap realizing that his wife died during this time. The story becomes both dark and funny at this point.

– Published in 1819, “Rip Van Winkle” gives lasting descriptions of the landscapes of a new world and new country.   Some of which may still exist today and some of which may not:

From an opening between the trees he could overlook all the lower country for many a mile of rich woodland. He saw at a distance the lordly Hudson, far, far below him, moving on its silent but majestic course, with the reflection of a purple cloud, or the sail of a lagging bark, here and there sleeping on its glassy bosom, and at last losing itself in the blue highlands.

These are things I did not remember from the first time I read “Rip Van Winkle”:

– The American Revolution occurred during Rip’s twenty-year nap.  This makes me curious about Washington Irving’s politics when writing the story.  However, this could simply be a comic device.  When I think about it, taking a nap and missing a revolution is hilarious.

-In a brilliant effect, the reader doesn’t realize Rip has been asleep until he wakes up – much like Rip himself.

If you have not read “Rip Van Winkle” I highly recommend it.  If you have read it, go ahead and read it again, it’s still great!

I read this story when I selected the Ace of Spades for Week 24 of my Deal Me In 2015 short story project.  My Deal Me In 2015 list can be seen here. Deal Me In 2015 is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.


Posted in Short Stories

Louise Erdrich: Fleur


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The first time she drowned in the cold and glassy waters of Lake Turcot, Fleur Pillager was only a girl.

It’s interesting that after a week of stories by Annie Proulx, I draw the Ten of Diamonds and it takes me to a story by another female author who frequently has Western settings, Louise Erdrich’s “Fleur”.  This story is included in The Oxford Book of American Short Stories edited by Joyce Carol Oates.  My Deal Me In 2015 list can be seen here. Deal Me In 2015 is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.


In Oates’ introduction, she refers to this story as magical realism.  I’ve heard this term used here and there around the blogoshpere and it’s always been a thought-provoking idea.  What is magical realism?  When is a story too real to be considered magical?  When is a story too magical to be considered real?  These are nice little questions for book lovers to ponder.  It seems magical realism manages to find the right balance between the two.  And for this reason, I would agree with Oates that “Fleur” is a wonderful example of magical realism.

Fleur, a Native American woman, moves to Argus, North Dakota in 1920 and becomes the talk of the town’s residents.  She doesn’t fit in with anyone except perhaps the young female narrator who feels invisible to people.  This invisibility helps the narrator tell Fleur’s story.

The “real” part of the story involves the poker games of the men of the town.  Games that Fleur barges in on.  While not exactly welcome by the men, they don’t tell her to go away.  Erdrich includes great details allowing the reader to understand the minds of all the players involved in the games.  The “magical” part is when Fleur wins exactly one dollar every night.

The vengeful tornado that tears through the town after the poker games end poorly happen to be very real and very magical.

I read Erdrich’s novel The Round House a few years ago and it just didn’t do much for me; however, I would love to read more stories about Fleur and, from Joyce Carol Oates introduction, it sounds as though Fleur makes appearances in other  writings of Erdrich  – definitely welcomed information.

Posted in Short Stories

Annie Proulx Week, Day 6 – A Lonely Coast

Not being aware of the contents of the Annie Proulx stories I’ve read this week, I’ve been surprised that it wasn’t until this last story, “A Lonely Coast”, that female characters took a more prominent role.  Not surprising is the small-town Wyoming setting and Proulx perfectly captures the small-town Western bar scene (in this story it’s called “The Golden Buckle”).


The unnamed female narrator (at least I think she is unnamed, I went back several times to try to see if Proulx ever gave her a name, if she did and I just forgot, feel free to let me know!) tells the story of her friend Josanna Skiles.  No major plot line exists. Small episodes serve as examples of the miserable life that Josanna and the rest of the women in town seem to lead.  None of the men in this story treat women with any respect and they all, men and women, lead a hopeless life.

The title comes from a seemingly minor detail about the only vacation that the narrator and her boyfriend, Riley, took to the Oregon coast.  This coast was as lonely as Wyoming except for one thing:

Up the lonely coast a stuttering blink warned ships away.  I said to Riley that was what we needed in Wyoming – lighthouses.  He said no, what we needed was a wall around the state and turrets with machine guns in them.

At least from this story, I think Wyoming could use lighthouses, also.  And something about which to be hopeful.

Posted in Short Stories

Annie Proulx Week, Day 5 – People In Hell Just Want a Drink of Water

With “People In Hell Just Want a Drink of Water”, Annie Proulx puts her spin on the villagers vs. the monster story similar to “Beauty and the Beast” – although there really isn’t a Beauty in this story and perhaps that’s why things don’t turn out quite as well.


The villagers take the form of Ice Dunmire and his eight sons.  They grow up ranching and become good ranchers. – to the point that ranching becomes the way of their world and they automatically assume it should be the way of everyone else’s world.  Meanwhile, in the same small Wyoming town, Ras Tinsley grows up with a different mindset:

…he threw the weight of his mind in random directions as if the practical problems of life were not to be resolved but teased as a kitten is by a broom straw.

A tragic car accident leaves Ras horribly disfigured in a Beast-like fashion.  Because he frightens the townspeople, the Dunmires take things into their own hands and the manner in which this conflict ends puts this story firmly in that pesky “disturbing” category.

The significance of the title could make a good discussion as it is not actually referenced in the story.  While I have my ideas about it, I don’t want to ruin the story for others.

Posted in Short Stories

Annie Proulx Week, Day 4 – Job History

Annie Proulx’s “Job History” is just what the title says it is.  Set in and around Unique, Wyoming, the story of Leeland Lee’s various jobs and job losses is somewhat unique.  The story is told almost as a series of lists with the exception of incredible paragraphs detailing Leeland’s physical appearance as a child or the same type of detail describing Leeland’s wife, Lori.

It’s easy to read this story with the mindset that Leeland and his family have incredibly bad luck as his job history is quite long and varied.  Or with the idea that the setting is simply economically depressed and this is what happens in these places. This  isn’t the first time that Proulx has equated Wyoming with bad luck.  Poor Mero in “The Half-Skinned Steer” has great luck outside of his home state only for the bad luck to return as he makes his way back.

In spite of the continuous job changes, the story also tells of a resilience that keeps going through the bad times. Leeland may not be the most pleasant of characters, but I like him because he never gives up.


Posted in Short Stories

Annie Proulx Week, Day 3 – 55 Miles to the Gas Pump

At a page and a half, Annie Proulx’s story “55 Miles to the Gas Pump” is even shorter than yesterday’s story “The Blood Bay”. It also has a comedic tone, and while dark, it’s more tongue-in-cheek.  In half a paragraph, Proulx manages to muster up more suspense than some authors can in an entire novel.  For a few seconds, the reader wonders what is in the attic that Rancher Croom keeps locked from Mrs. Croom.  The answer might come as a shock to the reader but not to Mrs. Croom.

The story has nothing to do with a gas pump but everything to do with people who live isolated from other people.  As Proulx puts it at the end of the story:

When you live a long way out you make your own fun.