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In her short story “Dr. Livingston’s Grotto”, Normandi Ellis elevates the natural world to the supernatural with only a little bit of whimsy – nothing magical. And this is no small feat.
Dr. Livingston wanders through his yard and falls through a hole in the ground into what he presumes to be an unknown section of the Kentucky Mammoth Caves. The hole in the roof of the cave is too far for him to climb back out – so he is stuck until someone finds him. He takes in his surroundings as best he can in the darkness becoming more intrigued than frightened.
When his wife finally finds him and makes plans to rescue him with a rope, much to her surprise, Dr. Livingston requests that she bring him his saxophone and lower it into the cave. He then takes the rope and instrument to an underground stream with fish and newts that don’t have eyes. There, he plays his saxophone as the cave provides him with the inspiration he needs to make up his own songs:
He blew into it slowly. It was a sweet cry – a baleful, beautiful, resonant sound. He sat quietly a moment, listening to its echo. Music flowed through his veins like dark water, etching out secret caverns, filling him with wonder.
The contrast Ellis makes between the eyeless cave-life and the sound of the saxophone paints this world with strange strokes- a world where asking for a saxophone instead of a rescue makes sense.
According to the introduction to this story in the collection Home and Beyond: An Anthology of Kentucky Short Stories edited by Morris Allen Grubbs, Normandi Ellis grew up in Franfort, Kentucky and studied journalism at the University of Kentucky. After traveling the world extensively, she made her way back to Kentucky to live on a farm and write. Much of her writing involves the customs, practices and deities of Ancient Egypt.
I read this story as a result of selecting the Four of Hearts for Week 9 of my Deal Me In 2016 short story project. My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.
I wanted something to happen which might have the effect of freeing both Wuthering Heights and the Grange of Mr. Heathcliff, quietly; leaving us as we had been prior to his advent. His visits were a continual nightmare to me, and, I suspected, to my master also. His abode at the Heights was an oppression past explaining. I felt that God had forsaken the stray sheep there to its own wicked wanderings, and an evil beast prowled between it and the fold, waiting his time to spring and destroy.
There’s the old adage that no good deed goes unpunished and that seems to be the case for Old Mr. Earnshaw in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. When he brings home the gypsy orphan boy, Heathcliff, he starts in motion what might be called a tour de force of creepy dysfunction.
Probably since high school English, I’ve heard of Heathcliff and Catherine as the epitome of tortured love. Now that I’ve read their story all of these years later, I can say that whoever said that wasn’t kidding. The foggy moor, the dark and cloudy nights, the full moons and the large old houses all coincide very well with the eerie storms raging in the minds and souls of the principle characters, not least of which is Heathcliff.
The families involved in the story live their lives mostly secluded from the rest of the world. Is the seclusion a result of the dysfunction or the cause of it? As with questions like this, I don’t think there is an answer; however, mulling it over can give literary and pychology types hours of fascination. I found it interesting that Lockwood, the gentleman to whom the story is being told, briefly contemplates marrying into the family and this is after he knows their story. I think it says more about the institution of marriage during the early 1800’s than about his questionable judgement – although maybe it says a little of both.
The servant Nelly Dean gives one of the better “narrator” performances that I’ve read in a while. Being both involved in the daily lives of the characters but also detached due to her servant status provides an interesting perspective.
For much of the novel, hope seems something far away or even non-existent. However, I always like stories that can find a glimmer of hope in an otherwise hopeless world. When the younger Cathy begins taking an interest in her cousin Hareton’s education and teaches him to read, it seems something good might come of this spooky mess.
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I once saw Mark Twain’s short story “The Diary of Adam and Eve” performed as a play. Now that I have actually read the story, I am recalling that the play didn’t stray far from the original. It kept the humor. It kept the touching ending. It didn’t try to add any moral lessons outside of the satirical ones included in the original story. Considering the play was sponsored by a church, I’m looking back and thinking of it as surprisingly refreshing, now. It was mostly entertaining – just as the original is.
Much of the humor comes from Adam’s perspective and his perplexity at his new companion whom he considers to be more of an intruder. He doesn’t understand Eve’s logic as to why a tiger should be called a tiger simply because it looks like a tiger. Without turning Adam into a complete idiot, Twain tends to give Eve the brains of the couple even if her logic might warrant some questioning.
Twain then moves slowly from satirical to heart-felt in a manner I found likable. It’s a slow transition from Adam and Eve irritating and misunderstanding each other to realizing they need each other. It’s something Adam doesn’t fully understand but that Eve decides to call “love”.
In spite of Eve’s constant talking, Twain allows Adam to get in the last poignant words:
Wheresoever she was, there was Eden.
I read this story because I selected the Four of Spades for Week 8 of my Deal Me In 2016 short story project. “The Diary of Adam and Eve” is included in my copy of The Complete Short Stories of Mark Twain. My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.
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I want more Wodehouse. “The Pitcher and the Plutocrat” is my first work by P. G. Wodehouse. According to the fantastic Short Story Magic Tricks, this is an early work of Wodehouse and he only gets better. If that’s the case, then I can’t wait to read more.
In a story with some little twists and turns, baseball brings together a young man and woman who might not be together, otherwise. I found the events by which this happens to be hilarious. I also enjoy the role baseball plays in the story and that it’s simply a role. A specific game is not the entire story.
In just this story, Wodehouse humor has sucked me in. With all due respect to Jersey City, sentences like this one give me endless chuckles:
Wherever civilization reigned, and Jersey City, one question alone was on every lip: Who would win?
Or this funny little bit of conversation:
“Oh, Clarence,” she cried, “my precious angel wonder-child, I don’t know how to begin.”
“Begin just like that,” said Clarence approvingly. “It’s fine. You can’t beat it.”
What P. G. Wodehouse stories have you read? Feel free to recommend some, I’m feeling a Wodehouse week coming on sometime in the near future.
I read “The Pitcher and the Plutocrat” after drawing the Three of Diamonds for my Deal Me In 2016 short story project. My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis. This story is included in my copy of Baseball’s Best Short Stories edited by Paul D. Staudohar.
Now I move on to the final four stories in Steven Millhauser’s collection Voices in the Night: Stories:
I guess I like dark humor more than I like plain old dark. This one is very dark and very funny. I’m still not sure, though, about what seems to be Millhauser’s infatuation with suicide.
Another story that I don’t completely understand but I’ll give it a go. A town has what could be considered a park known as “The Place”. It has some surreal, fantastical elements that attract some people to it whole-heartedly, some only half-way and others not at all. The narrator tends to lose his relationships to “The Place”. I’m going way out on a limb, here, but “The Place” seems to be where people with great imaginations go.
“An American Tall Tale”
Paul Bunyan enters a contest with his ne’er-do-well book-loving brother, James. I would consider this story delightful. Writing in typical tall-tale style, I have come to appreciate Millhauser’s ability to put himself in different voices while continuing to maintain his own.
“The Pleasures and Sufferings of Young Gautama”
From the title, it comes as no surprise that this story has a Buddhist flavor and along with it some beautiful writing and ideas – lots of “knowing and not knowing”. Prince Siddhartha Gautama goes through a journey of inward-looking and self-discovery much to the dismay of his friends and family. I’m tempted to say this is my favorite of this bunch; however, it’s not as much of a standout as some of my other favorites.
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“The way I look at it, Tub, no man is an island. You’ve got to trust someone.”
In 2014, I read Tobias Wolff’s short story “Bullet in the Brain” and found it darkly humorous. For Week 6 of Deal Me In 2016, I selected the Nine of Spades which corresponds to Wolff’s story “Hunters in the Snow”. I discovered the same dark humor included here.
Any time a story contains dark humor and blood and snow, I think of the films of Joel and Ethan Coen – especially Fargo. So it came as no surprise when they kept popping into my head as I read “Hunters in the Snow”.
Kenny, Tub and Frank go hunting on a winter day in Washington State. By way of an accident (or perhaps it could be called more of a misunderstanding), one of the friends is shot. The humor comes in the ability of Wolff to juxtapose the life-endangerment of the wounded friend with the need of the other two, on the way to the hospital, to stop at local diners to get coffee, breakfast, warm up and discuss a few personal situations. With each stop, they check on their still-living friend in the back of their pickup truck and wonder why his blankets have blown off.
Based on the personal situations of the two friends, it’s not difficult to realize that neither of them are exceptionally bright. But to my surprise, all three of the characters are likable. For comical stories, it doesn’t get much better than this one.
“Hunters in the Snow” is included in my copy of The Oxford Book of American Short Stories edited by Joyce Carol Oates. My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.
The final TBR Triple Dog Dare is sponsored by James at James Reads Books so I thought I would post an update. The Dare requires participants to read only books that they already have during January, February and March. While I can’t say the number of books I’ve read so far is anything to post about, I will say that I’ve become very inspired to read the books that are already on my shelf.
I’ve read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and am almost finished with Steven Millhauser’s collection Voices in the Night: Stories. The Millhauser book I am counting even though it’s from the library. I’ve had it since before the beginning of 2016. I planned on reading Jack London’s Martin Eden, also from the library; however, it had to be returned before I got a chance to read it (I couldn’t renew it). So the London novel will have to wait until the spring.
Next up will be the Bronte sisters. I’ve had Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre on my shelf for years. It’s high time I read them.