Mark Powell: The Beauties of This Earth (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 7)

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“Every time I drink this I start to cry,” the old man said. “Thinking about the beauties of this earth.”

“The wonders,” Walt said.

The old man took a long swallow. “The goddamn wonders, indeed.”

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Mark Powell’s short story “The Beauties of This Earth” begins with Walt coming home during the “spring after the war”. I admit this phrase threw me for a loop because it sounds like a war that is finished. Powell published the story in 2007 and the time frame seems to be the present. The plot reveals that Walt had been in the middle east during the war. Maybe I’m making too big of a deal about something so small, it’s just that the wars during the last decades don’t really seem to be over. Perhaps it just means that Walt is finished with the war.

I’ll move on.

Walt comes home to a father grieving over the death of his mother (Walt’s grandmother) and an almost ex-wife who won’t let him see his son. In the background of all this is a crime Walt commited (or is at least accused of) during the war, a crime of inaction. I say this crime is in the background because it is only described briefly in a few paragraphs in the middle of the story. What I find amazing is Powell’s ability to keep this in the background but by doing so bring it to the foreground with the rest of the plot.

Overall, it’s a sad story that I enjoyed; however, Walt’s interaction with his father tugged at my emotions more than the relationship with his ex-wife or his inability to see his son. The above quotation that ends the story provides an example.

This is the first time I’ve read any of Mark Powell’s work but he has several novels. At first glance, his novel The Sheltering looks quite good – with a foreward by the late Pat Conroy. I’ll think I’ll have to check it out soon.

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I read this story when I selected the Seven of Spades for Week 7 of my Deal Me In 2017 short story project. “The Beauties of This Earth” is included in my copy of Degrees of Elevation: Short Stories of Contemporary Appalachia edited by Charles Dodd White and Page Seay. My Deal Me In List can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

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