Ring Lardner: Horseshoes (Deal Me In 2016 – Week 17)

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It was child’s play for Speed to pick it up and heave it over to Merkle before Jack got there. If anybody else had been playin’ third base the bag would of ducked out o’ the way o’ the wallop; but even the bases themselves was helpin’ him out.

Ring Lardner, probably one of the most well-known writers of baseball stories, serves up some usual humor in his short story “Horseshoes” where the “punchline” is revealed at the beginning; however, the story presents the “joke”.

I wouldn’t say that it is necessarily a joke to Grimes, the teller of the story; however, knowing the comment that Speed Parker makes to him after Grimes’ World Series – winning catch gives the story some humorous momentum – and it’s a rather rambling story that would have otherwise seemed a little too long.  As the title might suggest, Parker’s comment insinuates that Grimes’ catch was simply luck. I’ll let you read the rest of the story to find out why that is so funny.

As most of Lardner’s baseball stories go, “Horseshoes” contains a considerable amount of colloquial story-telling (I kept wanting to read the story out loud) and some detailed baseball plays. All of this could have been somewhat tedious in the hands of a lesser author, but Lardner made me want to keep reading.

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I selected this story when I drew the Nine of Diamonds for Week 17 of my Deal Me In 2016 short story project. This story is included in my copy of Baseball’s Best Short Stories edited by Paul D. Staudohar. My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

 

G. K. Chesterton: The Hammer of God (Deal Me In 2016 – Week 16)

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I’ve read a handful of G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries and I can say that “The Hammer of God”, which I read this week when I drew the Queen of Clubs for Week 16 of my Deal Me In 2016 short story project, is my favorite. 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 The Complete Father Brown Stories by G. K. Chesterton.

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I’ve probably said this before but the problem with short story mysteries and, in some cases, mysteries in general is that they either are so simplified that the reader can see the answer a mile away thus taking away the mystery aspect or the answer is pulled out of thin air so that the reader couldn’t have guessed the answer even if they tried.

In reading “The Hammer of God”, I slowly eliminated a few of the suspects and gradually the culprit began to reveal themselves – and it made sense yet was very much a surprise. The mystery involves the fall of the pious amidst the wonderful quotable Chesterton writing. And a gruesome description of the victim’s skull bashed in didn’t hurt. I mean it didn’t hurt the plot of the story; I imagine it may have hurt the victim.

I guess I’ll call SPOILERS here as the following paragraph grabbed my attention before I even knew there was a victim. While it doesn’t reveal the ultimate ending, it does come after the witnessing of an act of cruelty outside of the murder and subtly gives some clues:

This ugly sunlit picture of the stupidity and cruelty of the earth sent the ascetic finally to his prayers for purification and new thoughts. He went up to a pew in the gallery, which brought him under a coloured window which he loved and which always quieted his spirit; a blue window with an angel carrying lillies. There he began to think less about the half-wit, with his livid face and mouth like a fish. He began to think less of his evil brother, pacing like a lean lion in his horrible hunger. He sank deeper and deeper into those cold and sweet colours of silver blossoms and sapphire sky.

 

The Martian by Andy Weir

If you have already seen the film version of Andy Weir’s The Martian (as I had prior to reading the novel), you probably won’t get much more from the book; however, I still found it worth reading.

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I think the book provides a closer look into astronaut Mark Watney’s personality and Weir does an amazing job of making Watney incredibly funny while constantly in the face of danger stranded on Mars. Watney’s quirkiness isn’t simply a gimmick. He’s a very believable character.

Most of the novel is from Watney’s point of view as he writes log entries about his situation on Mars. After explaining in detail why he might die in the near future, he closes his entries with a comment about a cheesy 1970’s TV show he is watching or the Disco music he is listening to (one of his 1970’s obsessed crew mates left digital copies of all things 70’s).

I’m not a scientist so I have no idea if the the science aspect of the novel is real or potentially real. All I can say is that it all sounded really good.

On goodreads.com, the novel is listed as The Martian #1. Does this mean there will be more of Mark Watney in future novels? I can hope!

Ernest Hemingway: Big Two-Hearted River (Deal Me In 2016-Week 15)

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Is it possible that Ernest Hemingway’s story “Big Two-Hearted River” doesn’t have an iceberg?  Is it possible that there is nothing below the surface of “Big Two-Hearted River” except fish?

From various readings about Hemingway’s life, fishing was a beautiful experience for him. So it comes as no surprise that he needs no other ulterior motive to make writing about fishing a beautiful experience.

In this story, Nick Adams, a recurring Hemingway character, takes a train to somewhere in Michigan. I’m guessing at Michigan, here, simply because Lake Superior is mentioned and other Nick Adams stories are set in Michigan.

All of the Nick Adams stories I’ve read give the sense of a past and a future. “Big Two-Hearted River” is no different; however, the present is more of a focal point than in other stories. And the present involves Nick setting up camp and fishing with vintage Hemingway descriptions. Nick is fishing by himself and while an alone-ness prevails over the story it only enhances the beauty of the experience. There is something different here from loneliness or isolation:

Out through the front of the tent he watched the blow of the fire, when the night wind blew on it. It was a quiet night. The swamp was perfectly quiet. Nick stretched under the blanket comfortably. A mosquito hummed close to his ear. Nick sat up and lit a match. The mosquito was on the canvas, over his head. Nick moved the match quickly up to it. The mosquito made a satisfactory hiss in the flame. The match went out. Nick lay down again under the blanket. He turned on his side and shut his eyes. He was sleepy. He felt sleep coming. He curled up under the blanket and went to sleep.

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I read this story because I selected the King of Spades for Week 15 of my Deal Me In 2016 short story project. “Big Two-Hearted River” is included in my copy of The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway.  My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

 

 

 

Jane Eyre – Volume the Second

The second volume of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is still strictly from the perspective of Jane, herself; however, the reader gets a few more stories from other characters as they are told to Jane. The most important one being the secret Mr. Rochester finally reveals to Jane. Since others may not have read this novel, I won’t give it away. The one oddity about Mr. Rochester’s story is that I found it to be humorous. I’m curious if any other readers of Jane Eyre found something comical about this aspect of his past. For some reason, I’m not sure I was suppose to be laughing. As wonderful of a story as it is, I didn’t see it as a funny one – except for this part.

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The brilliance Bronte puts into Jane as a character is in her ability to make Jane both reserved and passionate, both traditional and rebellious – at the same time. Jane, herself, gives the reader a clue to this part of her personality:

I know no medium: I never in my life have known any medium in my dealings with positive, hard characters, antagonistic to my own, between absolute submission and determined revolt. I have always faithfully observed the one, up to the very moment of bursting, sometimes with volcanic vehemence, into the other…

While the novel is a classic and has been made into at least a few movies, I was not aware of how Jane’s “romances” played out. I do know that it’s not simply modern day mystery novels that can keep me guessing on the edge of my seat. Nineteenth century British romances can do the same.

Here is my post for Jane Eyre – Volume the First.

Robert Penn Warren: Christmas Gift (Deal Me In 2016 – Week 14)

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The live cigarette, burned almost to the very end, hung at the corner of the boy’s lips, glowing fitfully and faintly with his speech. It hung there, untouched by his hands, which were thrust under the rug. He no longer drew the smoke in; it seemed to seep in without conscious effort on his part, drifting from his nostrils thinly with his breath.

It’s Christmas in April here at Mirror with Clouds! After reading Alice Munro’s “The Turkey Season” which I had a feeling would have something of a holiday theme (and it did), I selected the Ace of Spades for Week 14 of my Deal Me In 2016 short story project which corresponds to Robert Penn Warren’s “Christmas Gift”. Each year, I purposely include a story that has a Christmas sounding title just to see when it might show up and Warren’s story is the one I included this year. While Christmas is never directly mentioned in the story, some of the details (not least of which is the title) give the impression  that the setting is sometime around December.

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At the beginning of the story, Sill Lancaster, a boy who I would say is about ten years old, has hitched a ride (on a horse drawn wagon) into town to find a doctor for his pregnant sister. The locals at a store give him directions to the doctor and some red and white peppermint sticks.

He finds the doctor who hitches up his horse to his wagon and takes Sill back to his sister. The bulk of the story is Sill’s ride back home with the doctor. In fact, the story ends before they get to the Lancaster house. From the short pieces of conversation between the doctor and Sill, we find out that Sill’s sister is from his mom’s side of the family, not his dad’s. It appears that the sister is not married – at least a husband is not mentioned. The doctor knows of Sill’s father and understands that most people don’t like him.

The doctor rolls his own cigarette and drops the tobacco bag into Sill’s lap. In a powerful scene, Sill, not sure of what the doctor will think, eventually opens the bag and rolls his own cigarette, too. In exchange, the boy gives the doctor one of his peppermint sticks.

Given the approximate age of the boy, these two gifts say more about the givers than about Sill. The locals at the store think of him as a child. The doctor understands the unspoken circumstances of Sill’s family life and knows he’s more of a man. Maybe more of one than he should have to be.

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 The Best American Short Stories of the Century edited by John Updike.

 

“The Turkey Season”: The Alice Munro Story of the Month – April

There was the Turkey Barn, on the edge of a white field, with a row of big pine trees behind it, and always, no matter how cold and still it was, these trees were lifting their branches and sighing and straining. It seems unlikely that on my way to the Turkey Barn, for an hour of gutting turkeys, I should have experienced such a sense of promise and at the same time of perfect, impenetrable mystery in the universe, but I did.

After reading Alice Munro’s “The Turkey Season” for the April edition of “The Alice Munro Story of the Month”, I had the distinct feeling that twelve Alice Munro stories isn’t going to be enough. I might have to extend reading her stories into 2017.

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In “The Turkey Season”, the fourteen year-old female narrator gives a few subtle hints that she is more educated and has a different future in store for her than most of the residents of her small hometown of Logan, Ontario. This bright future, though, doesn’t give way to arrogance but rather provides her with a respect and admiration for her town.

During the Christmas season, she gets a job gutting turkeys at The Turkey Barn. Her co-workers are a crew of various personalities and temperaments. The narrator, herself, values these relationships and the work they do even as they seamlessly glide back and forth between resignation and contentment as to their life circumstances.

As the narrator, now older, looks back on a photograph of her co-workers on that Christmas Eve when she was fourteen, she recalls the snow and the coldness of that season with a certain amount of fondness seeing a small amount of light, hope, warmth and even love for people who weren’t necessarily that lovable to the rest of the world.

Alice Munro is becoming a favorite. I can’t wait until May!

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