Maurice Thompson: The Legend of Potato Creek (Deal Me In 2016 – Week 13)

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Then, by an effort that evidently taxed his fading powers to the last degree, he fixed his eyes firmly on those of the young woman. Here was a martyr of the divine sort, true and unchangeable in the flame of the torture.

I selected the Two of Hearts for Week 13 of my Deal Me In 2016 short story project. I’ve designated Two’s to be Wild and Hearts is the suit I’ve designated for stories about my current home state of Kentucky. “The Legend of Potato Creek” by Maurice Thompson is set in Indiana, a previous home state of mine and not that far from Kentucky so it still loosely fits with my Hearts topic. I first heard of this story from Jay’s recent post over at Bibliophilopolis. Still a current Indiana resident, Jay’s Deal Me In 2016 list contains all stories with an Indiana connection.

I’m not sure of the difference between sentimental and melodramatic but I think both can describe this pleasant story.  Rose Turpin visits her uncle and on a warm summer day encounters Zach Jones, a sick man with a sick horse. In a not-quite-but-almost fairly tale manner, Rose has a healing effect on both the horse and the man.

Works of Maurice Thompson

I’m not one to put symbolism into every little detail of a story; however, a yellow butterfly continuously flits in and out of the story for no apparent reason – other than  perhaps to serve as a symbol. In this story, I would venture to guess that the butterfly represents something like “new life”- the new life that Zach and his horse receive when they meet Rose.

How long does this new life last? I won’t give that part away.

My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis. I read this story on-line for free here.

 

 

Jane Eyre – Volume the First

So far, what has made Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre great to me has been its perspective or, perhaps, “point of view” might be the better term. Bronte puts her novel firmly and confidently into the hands of her heroine using what is almost “stream of consciousness” before anyone had ever used the term (to my limited knowledge, anyway).

While Nelly Dean’s narration of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights is intriguing, Nelly knows significantly more about the inner thoughts and emotions of everyone involved in the story than is realistic. But I’m not sure complete realism is what Emily Bronte is going for in her only novel.

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Charlotte, on the other hand, pulls the reader into one character and nothing in the novel is seen outside of the title character’s thoughts – at least not in Volume the First. I admit I’ve plunged into Volume the Second since starting this post and as the plot thickens, we get a little more point of view from another character. But I’ll save that for another post.

Here’s a nice example of Jane’s matter-of-fact practicality in a conversation she has with herself regarding her employer, Mr. Rochester:

“You have nothing to do with the master of Thornfield, further than to receive the salary he gives you for teaching his protege, and to be grateful for such respectful and kind treatment as, if you do your duty, you have a right to expect at his hands. Be sure that is the only tie he seriously acknowledges between you and him: so don’t make him the object of your fine feelings, your raptures, agonies, and so forth. He is not of your order: keep to your caste; and be too self-respecting to lavish the love of the whole heart, soul, and strength, where such a gift is not wanted and would be despised.”

I’m finding Jane’s conversations with herself to be quite enjoyable.

 

James Thurber: You Could Look It Up (Deal Me In 2016 – Week 12)

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At the rate I’m going, my Diamond stories are going to be gone half way through the year. Diamonds is the suit I’ve set aside for stories about baseball and while I have diligently shuffled the cards, I’ve drawn Diamonds significantly more than any other suit. But that’s OK, I’m enjoying all of the stories I’ve read so far this year including all of those about baseball.

For Week 12, I selected the Queen of Diamonds which corresponds to humorist James Thurber’s 1941 story “You Could Look It Up”. While politically incorrect by today’s standards, forgive me for finding the story funny by my standards.

Squawks Magrew manages a professional baseball team and meets up with Pearl du Monville at a hotel bar in Columbus, Ohio. The narrator points out that in spite of the feminine name, Pearl is male – and he is also “thirty-four, thirty five” inches tall. Pearl manages to get Magrew to sign him on to his team and, of course, at a crucial point in a game put Pearl in thinking he will be an easy walk (given Pearl’s shorter strike zone).

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After three balls, however, Pearl decides to hit the ball:

The first baseman ketches it and stomps on the bag, the base umpire waves Pearl out, and there goes your old ball game, the craziest ball game ever played in the history of the organized world.

The craziest part of the game actually comes after Pearl’s bunt and it’s probably the part that is the most politically incorrect. So I will leave you to read the story for yourself and you can decide whether to be offended or whether to laugh. I can understand either one.

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.

 

 

 

Caroline Gordon: The Petrified Woman (Deal Me In 2016 – Week 11)

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We moved away that year and so we never went to another family reunion.  And I never went to the Fork again. It burned down that fall. They said that Cousin Tom set it on fire, roaming around at night, with a lighted lamp in his hand. That was after he and Cousin Eleanor got divorced. I heard that they both got married again but I never knew who it was they married. I hardly ever think of them anymore. If I do, they are still there in that house. The mockingbird has just stopped singing. Cousin Eleanor, in her long white dress, is walking over to the window, where, on moonlight nights, we used to sit, to watch the water glint on the rocks…But Cousin Tom is still lying there on the floor…

Caroline Gordon’s 1947 short story “The Petrified Woman” is chock full of Americana with a hint of underlying darkness. Sally, the narrator, is visiting her relative Hilda for a family reunion. While it’s never actually spelled out, I would say that both girls are pre to early teens. When another relative asks how Sally and Hilda are related, the response is “in about eight different ways”.

The fact that almost everyone at the reunion refers to each other as “cousin” doesn’t do much to dispell a certain stereotype about Kentucky; however, I didn’t get the impression that Gordon was creating this reunion to poke fun of her state. It was more like this is just the way it was.

Home and Beyond: An Anthology of Kentucky Short Stories

The family reunion takes place at Arthur’s Cave, the largest cave entrance in Kentucky although not as popular as Mammoth Cave. As the kids find their way with their adult Cousin Tom and their Cousin Giles Allard to a makeshift carnival, they pay money to see a dead sixteen year-old girl that has turned to stone. Cousin Giles Allard, who the rest of the family deems to be “slow”, asks why the girl’s chest is moving up and down if she is dead?

The petrified woman and the free flow of Kentucky whiskey set off the underlying darkness in the story and the tension between Cousin Tom and his wife, Cousin Eleanor. The plot is not intricate but Gordon’s characterizations of family members in addition to her descriptions of the Kentucky landscape make this just plain good story-telling.

According to this story’s introduction in Home and Beyond: An Anthology of Kentucky Short Stories edited by Morris Allen Grubbs, “The Petrified Woman” was included in the O. Henry Prize Stories in 1948. I read this story when I selected the Nine of Hearts 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.

 

 

Another TBR Triple Dog Dare Update

TBR Final Dare

The final TBR Triple Dog Dare is sponsored by James at James Reads Books and here’s another update. The Dare requires participants to read only books that they already have during January, February and March. Only a few more weeks to go and while I can’t get too excited about how many books I’ve read during these months, the books I have read have been worth reading. In February, I completed Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, a classic that has been on my shelf for a long time. I’m glad to have added this to my “Books Read” list.

Currently, I’m in the middle of Emily’s sister Charlotte’s novel Jane Eyre.  So far, I’m liking this one better but it’s taking even longer to get through it. Look for a post about “Volume The First” sometime soon. Reading the forewords and afterwords in these novels, has sparked an interest in the Bronte sisters. At some point this year, I might have to read a biography or two about this family of authors.

I received Andy Weir’s novel The Martian for my birthday last month so it will probably be the first book I read in April which at the rate I’m going will also be the book I read after Jane Eyre.  If I, by chance, finish it before the end of March, my plan is to read some more Ray Bradbury short stories that are already on my shelf.

Are you currently taking the dare? If so, how is it going?

John Cheever: The National Pastime (Deal Me In 2016 – Week 10)

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The feeling that I could not assume my responsibilities as a baseball player without some help from him was deep, as if parental love and baseball were both national pastimes.

For Week 10 of my Deal Me IN 2016 short story project, I selected the Two of Diamonds, my first Wild Card of the year. For Wild Cards, I haven’t purposely made the decision to choose a story that is connected to the topic I’ve chosen for that suit; however, in the case of this week, I’ve selected John Cheever’s short story “The National Pastime” which has a baseball connection which also happens to be the category for all of my Diamond stories. I’ve wanted to read more Cheever stories since I read the beautiful and depressing “The Country Husband” last year. “The National Pastime” was recommended to me when I first started posting about my interest in baseball stories. It’s just taken me a while to find it.

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Eben narrates the story about his relationship to his father, Leander, who was sixty years old at Eben’s birth. Leander suffered a major disappointment with the untimely birth of his son and forever associated Eben with it. At a young age, when Eben became interested in baseball, Leander injured his son while playing catch. Was the injury on purpose or accidental? It doesn’t really matter as Eben then continues to associate the injury with baseball  for the rest of his life. He goes out of his way to hide from other kids on the playground who decide to strike up a game. This fear of baseball follows him and has some drastic effects even into his college days and his career.

In a different story, it would be easy for the reader to hate Leander and feel sorry for Eben. At the same time, a reader might also want to tell Eben to “get over it”. Neither of these cases happened for me as Cheever puts enough depth into Leander so as to make him intriguing if not likable. Cheever also keeps Eben from completely hating or disowning his father even in the face of Leander’s obvious parental failures.

The story is set in rural St. Boltoph, Massachusetts not far from the ocean. Leander brags about the ocean experience of his ancestors and seems to always have some aspect of the sea about him. Interestingly enough, while he muses about his inability to play baseball and his father’s responsibility for that, Eben finds himself working on an oil rig and eventually establishes his career on the ocean. Irony? Perhaps.

Just as Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata plays in the background of “The Country Husband”, as Eben walks away from a baseball field that ended his teaching career, Cheever puts Chopin’s preludes into the story:

I took off my uniform and stood for a long time in the shower. Then I dressed and walked back across the quadrangle, where I could hear, from the open windows of the music building, [a colleague] playing the Chopin preludes. The music – swept with rains, with ruins, and unrequited and autumnal loves, with here and there a passage of the purest narcissism – seemed to outrage my senses, and I wanted to stop my ears. 

My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

 

“The Bear Came Over the Mountain” – The Alice Munro Story of the Month: March

She looked just like herself on this day – direct and vague as in fact she was, sweet and ironic.

We’re already up to March for The Alice Munro Story of the Month and I’ve read her story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain”. As I’ve said in my previous two posts and I’ll say again and I have a feeling that I could say this about all of Munro’s stories, she fits into a short story what most authors would have to include in a novel. Although at 46 pages, this story is a little longer than the usual short story.

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While Alzheimer’s Disease is not specifically mentioned in the story, most readers will come to the conclusion that this is what Fiona has. We know she is in her seventies and we see her deterioration from the point of view of her husband, Grant. We get a brief glimpse at the start of the story of Fiona and Grant as a young couple in college who get married on what might be called a whim and then jump directly to the aging couple dealing with Fiona’s disease – and we stay there for the rest of the story.

As the story is told from Grant’s perspective, we know he was not always faithful to Fiona in spite of what seems to be a deep love for her. I find this to be one of the more amazing aspects of Munro’s writing in that she perfectly combines Grant’s philandering and love for Fiona without condoning the former or discounting the latter. Munro wisely chooses to show us what Grant sees as opposed to trying to show us what Fiona may or may not see.

Anyone out there who might have gotten confused about the definition of irony in the mid 90’s by a certain Alanis Morrisette song need look no further than this story to find a beautiful example; however, I won’t spoil the plot by explaining it.

There is also the question of the title’s significance. The children’s song from which the title comes is never mentioned – which would lead one to believe there is some deeper significance. Other than the mountain perhaps symbolizing aging – as in “on the decline”, I’m simply content to find an interesting contrast in naming a story about aging after a light-hearted children’s song.

I found this story in Carried Away: A Selection of Stories by Alice Munro which I borrowed from my public library.