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For Week 2 of Deal Me In 2016, I drew the Six of Hearts which corresponds to the short story “The Perfecting of the Chopin Valse No. 14 in E Minor” by Sena Jeter Naslund. The stories in the Hearts section of my Deal Me In list for 2016 are written by authors with a Kentucky (my current home state) connection. This story is included in my copy of Home and Beyond: An Anthology of Kentucky Short Stories edited by Morris Allen Grubbs. According to Grubb’s introduction to this story and Wikipedia, Naslund teaches creative writing at the University of Louisville. Also according to Wikipedia, in 2005, she was named Poet Laureate of Kentucky. My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.
The story, which is set in Louisville, begins with the narrator listening to her aging mother play Chopin’s Valse No. 14 in E Minor on the piano. She notices that her mother is playing it more perfectly than she has every played it in the past.
This sets in motion the events of the story that go from realism to hyper-realism to magical realism. While it’s not spelled out in detail, the reader gets the impression that the narrator is concerned about her mother’s aging.
As the story progresses, the mother performs some other tasks that she would not ordinarily be able to do: moves a rock in the garden (a magical rock, perhaps?), single-handedly throws (including cooking) a huge dinner party for many friends and family that the narrator has not seen in years, and somehow makes the chrysanthemum’s in the garden bloom out of season.
What makes this story unusual is it’s positive and downright happy tone in the face of aging and death. The mother’s interaction with one of her guests – one with a nose like Frederick Chopin’s- is nothing short of delightful. And of course, she plays the piece for the rest of her guests:
I held my breath on and on as each passage of loveliness, the lightest, most gay of sounds, swept past. But where was the pedal touch on the fourth of the repeated notes? Of course it was withheld, withheld till the phrase was introduced for the last time, and then the pedal, a suggestion of poignant prolonging, a soupcon of romantic rubato, a wobble in rhythm, the human touch in the final offering of art. Then it ended.
Naslund also portrays something that I think she intends to be real as opposed to fantasy: the mother and daughter truly enjoy each other.
This alone makes the story refreshing.