Tim Gautreaux: Died and Gone to Vegas (Deal Me In 2016 – Week 48)

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Raynelle Bullfinch told the young oiler that the only sense of mystery in her life was provided by a deck of cards.

“Died and Gone to Vegas” is the first story I’ve read by Louisiana author Tim Gautreaux. It’s a short story made up of numerous shorter stories. A group of workers on an oil rig at the mouth of the Mississippi sit down at the end of the day to play cards. Of the group, Raynelle Bullfinch is the lone female but she holds her own with all of her male counterparts.

The Best American Catholic Short Stories: A Sheed & Ward Collection

While it’s not planned, one of the players tells a story which reminds another player of a story and then another and on it goes. Each story is pleasant, fun, mildly crass with a character who is down on their luck. If I would pick a protagonist from the bunch, I would say it would be Raynelle. She seems to provide a frame to the story in that she begins the game and, then, ends it with her dream of heading to Las Vegas to play cards with more sophisticated men than her present company.

The individual tales all have a Twain-esque feel to them in that they are humorous and “tall”.

And its always interesting when the Deal Me In fates deal up a story about a card game.

This story is included in my collection The Best American Catholic Short Stories. I read it when I selected the Four of Clubs 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.

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Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

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I miss my friend. But I still have the story that he gave me, that he whispered in my ear, that we told together, the one we whispered into your ear, and that is going to carry on. If I were a mystic, Clarence’s and my friendship would lead me to believe that we must have stood together in other, older times, along other rivers, in other cities, in other fields, doing our modest version of God’s work.

Bruce Springsteen fills his autobiography Born to Run with gem-like paragraphs as the one above in which he reflects on the death of his renown saxophonist, Clarence Clemons. Many reviews have already commented on the lyrical quality contained in much of the book but I would be remiss if I didn’t shout out a hardy “agree” in my own post.

It has been a while since I’ve read a rock bio and I don’t think I’ve reviewed one since I’ve been blogging. I evaluate rock bios on three categories: sex, drugs, rock and roll.

Sex: While making no profession of sainthood, Springsteen makes a point to say that his sex life was by no means that of the stereotypical rock star. He procedes to provide very few details. Given that I’m rarely interested in anyone’s conquests/escapades in this area, I found this refreshing.

Drugs: According to Springsteen, he never did any. If that’s true, maybe that’s why he is still able to play 4 hour concerts while getting close to age 70.

Rock and Roll: And of course that brings us to the rest of the book. The story I’m interested in hearing about and the story Springsteen is interested in telling. His relationship with the E Street Band, not without its ups and downs, appears to be a congenial one even while he makes no bones about the fact that he was indeed “The Boss”. He considers himself a benevolent dictator. The ins and outs of the music he wrote and created with these people and where the ideas for his albums came from never ceased to fascinate me.

One of the more minor and amusing anecdotes that I’m still thinking about involved Springsteen and a buddy taking one of many road trips from New Jersey to California. Apparently, the buddy was getting over a relationship and spent the first part of the trip riding shotgun hugging a giant teddy bear. Springsteen eventually pulled over and wrestled the bear away from the buddy telling him he was ruining their “Kerouac On The Road mojo.”

On one personal note, I admit I didn’t really “discover” Springsteen until I was around 40. Yes, as an older teen I was definitely aware of his music from his juggernaut album Born in the USA.  It wasn’t until decades later that I went back and listened to his follow up to that album, Tunnel of Love. I was amazed at how a rock star could lyrically portray so well the frightening and blissful messiness that is marriage. After that, I went back and listened to all of his albums. The characters he created and the stories he told in his music meshed with my enjoyment of literature like few other musicians have (Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash are two others).

On another personal and literary note, when I found out Springsteen considers Flannery O’Connor a major influence, it didn’t come as a surprise. On the one hand, Springsteen was raised Catholic and his lyrics are filled with Biblical and Catholic imagery just like O’Connor. On another hand, so many of the characters in Springsteen’s stories are people in need of redemption, some finding it and some not – just like O’Connor’s stories. And finally, not being Catholic myself, I’ve struggled to explain why I chose Catholicism as a topic for my 2016 Deal Me In short story project. When Springsteen discusses his Catholic influence, he hits on something that at least comes close to the reason for my intrigue with stories and authors from a Catholic background:

I came to ruefully and bemusedly understand that once you’re a Catholic, you’re always a Catholic. So I stopped kidding myself. I don’t often participate in my religion but I know somewhere…deep inside…I’m  still on the team.

This was the world where I found the beginnings of my song. In Catholicism, there existed the poetry, danger and darkness that reflected my imagination and my inner self. I found a land of great and harsh beauty, of fantastic stories, of unimaginable punishment and infinite reward. It was a glorious and pathetic place I was either shaped for or fit right into. It has walked alongside me as a waking dream my whole life. So as a young adult I tried to make sense of it. I tried to meet its challenge for the very reasons that there are souls to lose and a kingdom of love to be gained. I laid what I’d absorbed across the hardscrabble lives of my family, friends and neighbors. I turned it into something I could grapple with, understand, something I could even find faith in.  As funny as it sounds, I have a “personal” relationship with Jesus. He remains one of my fathers, though as with my own father, I no longer believe in his godly power. I believe deeply in his love, his ability to save…but not to damn…enough of that.

 

 

 

Chris Holbrook: The Idea of It (Deal Me In 2016 – Week 47)

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Sometimes I daydream about that pony I had when I was a little boy. I imagine I’m riding her fast across a bottom full of timothy. The timothy is almost ready for cutting and swishes against by legs as we gallop through. It’s like we’re flying, we go so fast. Sometimes I wonder if this is the same place I remember.

Many of the Kentucky stories I’ve read this year deal with the idea of “home”. Where is it? Should I leave it? Should I go back? Can I even go back or find it in the first place? “The Idea of It” by Chris Holbrook is another such story and, like most of the other ones, it’s pretty good.

Home and Beyond: An Anthology of Kentucky Short Stories

The narrator takes his wife and family from Cincinnati back to his grandparent’s house and farm in Eastern Kentucky – to live, permanently. The bushels of apples they pick and the vegetable garden they plant, the quilting loom that gets dragged out of the attic – they all add to the homey feel the narrator attempts to give his family.

His family, though, doesn’t take to it quite the way he would like. The strip mining, his lack of a job and the Uzi-induced bullet storm showerd on his anti-union friend puts a damper on things.

The awe-inspiring aspect of this story comes with the memories the narrator has of visiting his grandparent’s farm as a kid. While there are no bad memories, they tend to haunt the narrator when compared to the realities of the present.

I am familiar with Chris Holbrook from his collection of stories Hell and Ohio: Stories of Southern Appalachia which includes this story; however, I own this story in the collection Home and Beyond: An Anthology of Kentucky Short Stories. I read this story when I selected the Three 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.

Garrison Keillor: What Did We Do Wrong? (Deal Me In 2016 – Week 46)

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Because she was a woman, she was given the manager’s dressing room, and Hemmie [the manager] had to dress with the team. He was sixty-one, a heavyweight, and he had a possum tattoed on his belly alongside the name “Georgene”, so he was shy about taking his shirt off in front of people. He hated her for making it necessary. Other than that, he thought she was a tremendous addition to the team.

To use a folksy term that Garrison Keillor might use himself, I would describe his short story “What Did We Do Wrong?” as “a hoot”.

Annie Szemanski becomes the first female Major League baseball player and nobody can deny that she is a great player. This is where Keillor’s satirical abilities come in to play and it leads to some of the funniest writing I’ve read in a while.

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Keillor satirizes the fact that society can’t just let a woman play baseball. Because nobody can complain about her abilities, the press and fans decide to complain about her tobacco chewing habit and the tobacco brand she chews:

Then, bottom of the second, when she leaned over in the on-deck circle and dropped a stream of brown juice in the sod, the stadium experienced a moment of thoughtful silence.

And then, Keillor makes the relationship between Annie and her fans the same as a typical, or stereotypical, relationship between a married couple with Annie as the wife and the thousands of fans as the husband. The title comes from one of the many and often hilarious signs that Annie’s fans bring to her games.

This is the first of Keillor’s work I’ve ever read even though I’ve been familiar with him as a celebrity/personality for a long time. This story is included in my copy of Baseball’s Best Short Stories edited by Paul D. Staudohar. I read this story when I selected the Jack of Diamonds for Week 46 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.

 

 

Nathaniel Hawthorne: Rappaccini’s Daughter (Deal Me In 2016 – Week 45)

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It was not love, although her rich beauty was a madness to him; nor horror, even while he fancied her spirit to be imbued with the same baneful essence that seemed to pervade her physical frame; but a wild offspring of both love and horror that had each parent in it, and burned like one and shivered like the other. Giovanni knew not what to dread; still less did he know warfare in his breast, alternately vanquishing one another and starting up afresh to review the contest. Blessed are all simple emotions, be they dark or bright! It is the lurid intermixture of the two that produces the illuminating blaze of the infernal regions.

This pretty much sums up Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “Rappaccini’s Daughter”. If anyone can mix love and horror, it’s Hawthorne. I suppose Edgar Allan Poe could do it, too. And maybe even Stephen King but I haven’t read much of his work.

What makes the love and horror mix in this story so great is Hawthorne’s eloquent writing. It’s what I’ve come to expect from him and I don’t think I’ve ever been disappointed. Definitely not with this story. In fact I would take the writing over the plot.

It’s not a bad plot. Dr. Rappaccini reminds me of Dr. Frankenstein if he were a botanist presiding over his own Garden of Eden. His desire to go beyond science into the supernatural provides the horror to his daughter Beatrice and Giovanni’s love.

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I read this story when I selected the Seven of Spades for Week 45 of my Deal Me In 2016 short story project. It’s included in my copy of The Celestial Railroad and Other Stories. My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

“Amundsen”-The Alice Munro Story of the Month: November

The building, the trees, the lake, could never again be the same to me as they were on that first day, when I was caught by their mystery and authority. On that day I had believed myself invisible. Now it seemed as if that was never true.

There’s the teacher. What’s she up to?

She’s looking at the lake.

What for?

Nothing better to do.

Some people are lucky.

Alice Munro’s story “Amundsen” reminds me some of her story “The Turkey Season” – at least in tone, feel and atmosphere if not in plot.

The unnamed female narrator arrives at a sanatorium (or San) outside the town of Amundsen (in Canada) to live there as a teacher for the children suffering from tuberculosis. I am not certain of the timeframe of the story but it’s during the last year of “the war”. I’m going to guess that this is a reference to World War II and the setting is the 1940’s.

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She arrives sometime in winter in awe of the frozen lake and woods surrounding the “San.” Like “The Turkey Season”, a coldness prevails throughout the story with significant attention paid to the snow, the temperature of the school room, when a heater is needed and when one isn’t available. Unlike “The Turkey Season”, which contains some warmth hidden beneath the layer of cold, “Amundsen” remains cold in tone and atmosphere until the end even when spring bursts forth.

Most of this coldness stems from the teacher’s relationship with the doctor of the San who has hired her. He leaves her at the train station in the “lady’s waiting room” with a lack of warmth that transcends any physical temperature.

This story is included in Family Furnishings: Selected Stories, 1995 – 2015 which I borrowed from my public library.