Another Anniversary Top Ten List

Today is the Fifth Anniversary of Mirror With Clouds and to celebrate, I’m posting my top ten short stories of 2016 with some of my favorite quotations underneath the title (and then my own comments in red):

10.) Brooklyns Lose – William Heuman

He didn’t put Kluszewski on, neither,” this guy says grinning. “Klu hit it an’ kept goin’.”

This guy jokes, yet. This is a time for jokes when you have a ball game sewed up eight-to-seven in the ninth, and you lose it with a home-run ball.

I look out the window, and the guy says, “So tomorrow’s another day.”

I don’t even look at him. That kind of guy I don’t look at.

I enjoyed the baseball stories I read this year, and while there may have been other stories with more literary merit in this category, I just couldn’t help finding this one my favorite of the bunch – mostly for its fantastic use of Brooklyn dialect.

 

 

9.) Old Red – Caroline Gordon

Ah, a stouthearted one, Mary! She had never given up hope of changing him, of making him over into the man she thought he ought to be. Time and again she almost had him. And there were long periods, of course, during which he had been worn down by the conflict, one spring when he himself said, when she had told all the neighbors, that he was too old now to go fishing anymore….But he had made a comeback. She had had to resort to stratagem. His lips curved in a smile, remembering the trick.

Caroline Gordon and her recurring character Aleck Maury was one of the more pleasant discoveries I made this year.

 

 

8.) Double Birthday – Willa Cather

“…this is the only spot I know in the world that is before-the-war. You’ve got a period shut up in here; the last ten years of one century, and the first ten years of another. Sitting here, I don’t believe in aeroplanes, or jazz, or Cubists. My father is nearly as old as Doctor Englehardt, and we never buy anything new; yet we haven’t kept it out…”

Willa Cather puts another great spin on the early Twentieth Century – a time period that continues to fascinate me.

 

 

7.) Homeland – Barbara Kingsolver

My great-grandmother belonged to the Bird Clan. Hers was one of the fugitive bands of Cherokee who resisted capture in the year that General Winfield Scott was in charge of prodding the forest people from their beds and removing them westward. Those few who escaped his notice moved like wildcat families through the Carolina mountains…

Known (to me) for her novel The Poisonwood Bible, this was the first of Kentucky author Barbara Kingsolver’s work that I’ve read. Another story is included in Deal Me In2017.

 

 

6.) The Life You Save May Be Your Own – Flannery O’Connor

Every now and then her placid expression was changed by a sly isolated little thought like a shoot of green in the desert.

Technically, I didn’t read this story this year. I read it a couple of years ago; however, Jay selected it for a great guest post. I couldn’t let a technicality like that keep me from including a Flannery O’Connor story in my top ten list.

 

5.) Christmas Gift – Robert Penn Warren

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.

A great author who happens to be from Kentucky brings tobacco and cigarette smoking to new literary heights.

 

 

4.) The Turkey Season – Alice Munro

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.

This is the only story that wasn’t included in my Deal Me In 2016 short story project. I read an Alice Munro story each month this year and “The Turkey Season” (I read it for April) jumped out as a favorite early on. An older female protagonist looks back at a time when she was younger. While this concept appears to be a staple of Munro’s stories, this story has a slightly more positive tone than others.

 

 

3.) A Father’s Story – Andre Dubus

And He says: I am a Father too.

Yes, I say, as You are a Son Whom this morning I will receive; unless You kill me on the way to church, then I trust You will receive me. And as a Son You made Your plea.

Yes, He says, but I would not lift the cup.

I had not heard of Andre Dubus prior to putting this story on my list for 2016, but the raw spirituality made it a favorite.

 

 

2.) The Whore’s Child – Richard Russo

“Are we ever going to meet the father?” one student wanted to know. “I mean, she yearns for him and he gets compared to Christ, but we never see him directly. We’re, like, told how to feel about him. If he doesn’t ever show up, I’m going to feel cheated.”

Sister Ursula dutifully noted this criticism, but you had only to look at the old woman to know that the father was not going to show up. Anybody who felt cheated by this could just join the club.

I rediscovered Richard Russo with this story. The structure is both unique and perfect. I want to read more of his short stories in 2017.

 

 

1.) The Diary of Adam and Eve – Mark Twain

Wheresoever she was, there was Eden.

I admit that there is very little separating my top 4 stories, but I was so surprised at Mark Twain’s ability to combine satire and sentiment in this story that it’s remained my favorite since I read it back in February.

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Hollis Summers: The Vireo’s Nest (Deal Me In 2016 – Week 52)

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Mrs. Titelbaum had been a little hurt when Miss Delgado said the red-eyed vireo was the commonest vireo in North America. She did not like to think of her birds as common.

Hollis Summers’ “The Vireo’s Nest” wraps up my Deal Me In 2016 short story project. It’s the second story in a row that features a writing teacher. This one has a certain charm to it but it didn’t grab me like Richard Russo’s “The Whore’s Child” did last week.

Home and Beyond: An Anthology of Kentucky Short Stories

The plot has a circular feel to it. A group of students in the Artist’s Colony of Kentucky are being taught by  Dr. Thornton. Much to his frustration, circumstances seem to work against his ability to keep his students’ attention.

Bill and Janice sneak off to the woods for an amorous rendevous. Next, several of the older ladies in the class discover the nest mentioned in the title. As they monitor the baby vireo’s, one of the ladies with a darker past destroys a snake. She becomes somewhat of a hero to the older ladies and then we’re back to Bill and his one-track mind.

The darker past and the killing of the snake become the center of the story with humor and light-heartedness surrounding this. A lesser story would have made this transistion jarring; however, Summers makes it a smooth slide to the middle then a pleasant ride out.

This may not be my favorite story of the year but it’s worth reading. “The Vireo’s Nest” is included in my copy of Home and Beyond: An Anthology of Kentucky Short Stories edited by Morris Allen Grubbs. My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Richard Russo: The Whore’s Child (Deal Me In 2016 – Week 51)

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“Are we ever going to meet the father?” one student wanted to know. “I mean, she yearns for him and he gets compared to Christ, but we never see him directly. We’re, like, told how to feel about him. If he doesn’t ever show up, I’m going to feel cheated.”

Sister Ursula dutifully noted this criticism, but you had only to look at the old woman to know that the father was not going to show up. Anybody who felt cheated by this could just join the club.

I first discovered Richard Russo sometime in the early 2000’s when I read his Pulitzer Prize winning novel Empire Falls. I recall enjoying it and went on to read at least a couple more of his novels, but then he fell by the wayside.

When I chose Catholicism as a topic for my 2016 Deal Me In project, I didn’t realize I would run into “The Whore’s Child”, a short story by Russo, but I’m extremely glad I did!

Sister Ursula, an elderly nun, tells what appears to be the story of her childhood in an assignment for a writing class she has decided to take. The fact that its an advanced writing class with previous requirements that she has not met does not seem to bother her in the least. The title of this story gives a clue as to what her childhood was like.

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

As the reader, we get Sister Ursula’s story and the critique from the other students in the class who are judging it only on the basis of literary narrative as opposed to the true and sometimes gut wrenching life of a little girl.

The aspect of the story that I find wonderful is that it’s told from the point of view of the class professor. This puts the merging of fact and fiction, art and life, and the question of which is more true, at the center of the story and makes it one of the best reading experiences I’ve encountered in a while.

This story is included in my copy of The Best American Catholic Short Stories  edited by Daniel McVeigh and Patricia Schnapp. I read this when I selected the Six of Clubs for Week 51 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 can safely predict that next week, Week 52, will be the Seven of Hearts and I will be reading Hollis Summers’ Kentucky story “The Vireo’s Nest”.

 

Tim O’Brien: The Things They Carried (Deal Me In 2016 – Week 50)

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They carried all they could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried.

I’ve come to enjoy stories in which the author paradoxically uses subtlety and understatement to deliver something powerful. Of course, Tim O’Brien’s well-known short story “The Things They Carried” is about the war in Vietnam and its probably difficult to write anything about Vietnam or war in general with subtlety and understatement but O’Brien manages to do this – which gives this story a different type of power.

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So much of the story is told through listing the things a group of soldiers carries with them- much of which provides them with protection and survival. Most of them also carry items from home. First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carries letters from a girl back home. This might sound cliche until he recognizes that the salutation “Love” from the girl doesn’t really mean love. Small things like this give the story its emotional punch.

O’Brien skillfully avoids cliche again when he points out that the soldiers also carry with them intangible items – like fear:

Go limp and tumble to the ground and let the muscles unwind and not speak and not budge until your buddies picked and lifted you into the chopper that would roar and dip its nose and carry you off to the world. A mere matter of falling, yet no one ever fell. It was not courage, exactly; the object was not valor. Rather, they were too frightened to be cowards.

This story is included in my copy of The Oxford Book of American Short Stories edited by Joyce Carol Oates. I read it when I selected the Five of Spades for Week 50 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.

2017 is almost here…

And so its time to post my short story list for next year’s Deal Me In project!

For anyone who is not familiar with Deal Me In, it is a short story challenge hosted each year by Jay at Bibliophilopolis. Since there are 52 weeks in the year and 52 cards in a regular deck of playing cards, Deal Me In participants come up with a list of 52 short stories of their choosing assigning each to a specific card, and then each week, draw a card to determine which story they will read and potentially post about for that week. 2017 will be the fifth year in which I’ve participated and it’s been one of the most enriching blogging and learning experiences in which I’ve been involved.

So here is my list!

I’ve chosen a geographical theme for this upcoming Deal Me In project. My red suits are almost all from an anthology I bought this year Wonderful Town: New York Stories from the New Yorker edited by David Remnick. As I’ve stated on this blog at least a few times, I’ve long been fascinated with New York City, a place I’ve only managed to visit once. If I can’t go there as often as I would like, I figure I can at least read stories that are set there. The only exception in the red suits is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Snow Image”. I included it as the Christmas sounding title that I throw into my list each year just to see when it pops up. I’ve yet to have a Christmas story actually show up in December. And also, Hawthorne tended to write about New England which I thought kind of includes New York City so it fits in even if it might be a little bit of a stretch.

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My black suits are stories about Appalachia which, in the grand scheme of things, is not that far from New York City geographically but seems worlds apart. Seventeen stories are from a collection called Degrees of Elevation: Short Stories of Contemporary Appalachia edited by Charles Dodd White and Page Seay. I randomly chose the remaining stories that are by authors that have some connection to Appalachia. Since I enjoyed reading the Kentucky stories on my 2016 Deal Me In list, I thought I would expand that a little in 2017. Kentucky is my adpoted home state even if I only live just on the other side of the Ohio River from Cincinnati. Appalachia has a rich story-telling tradition that I’m looking forward to exploring.

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As in previous years, my Twos will be wild where I will choose a story I’ve heard of from someone else. They won’t necessarily be related to the topics of the othe stories on my list.

What about you? Do you feel like jumping in with the DMI’ers in 2017? I don’t think you will regret it if you do!

 

 

 

 

Crystal E. Wilkinson: Humming Back Yesterday (Deal Me In 2016 – Week 49)

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Aberdeen Copeland was bringing yesterday back from twenty years of hiding. Bringing it back in slow motion.

In “Humming Back Yesterday”, Crystal E. Wilkinson presents Aberdeen Copeland grappling with her past. Through “clicks”, still shot photographic descriptions of her memories, and through “hums”, slow motion films of her memories, Wilkinson provides snippets of Aberdeen’s childhood that allows the reader to understand the abuse she and her mother suffered from her stepfather.

Home and Beyond: An Anthology of Kentucky Short Stories

At the same time, the reader gets small everyday details of Aberdeen’s current life with her husband, Clovis. As Wilkinson provides both narratives, I found myself wondering if the abusiveness continues with Clovis twenty years later. While I can only go by what Wilkinson gives, I have to guess that Aberdeen has somehow managed to choose a husband completely different from the husband her mother chose.

To me, the contrast between Clovis and the stepfather made for a disturbing, yet ultimately uplifting, story.

This story is included in my copy of Home and Beyond: An Anthology of Kentucky Short Stories edited by Morris Allen Grubbs. I read this story when I selected the Ten of Hearts for Week 49 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.

“The Eye” – The Alice Munro Story of the Month: December

It’s the final installment of 2016’s The Alice Munro Story of the Month and I selected one of her shorter short stories “The Eye” from her collection Family Furnishing Selected Stories, 1995-2014.

An unnamed female child tells the story of her babysitter, Sadie, in a flashback of sorts. Sadie is ultimately killed by a car and when the narrator attends the funeral (still as a child), she swears to herself that she sees Sadie’s eyelid move while she views her body in the casket. She feels its a sign meant just for her.

The self-imposed isolation of the child when she refuses to tell any of the adults about what she saw is not an unfamiliar theme to Munro readers. Neither is the looking back from adulthood. In the case of “The Eye”, there is a little sadness at what growing up really means:

Long, long afterwards, when I was not at all interested in any unnatural display, I still had it in my mind that such a thing had happened. I just believed it easily, the way you might believe and in fact remember that you once had another set of teeth, now vanished but real in spite of that. Until one day, one day when I may even have been in my teens, I knew with a dim sort of hole in my insides that now I didn’t believe it anymore.

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