James Thurber: The Catbird Seat (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 39)

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He transferred the Camels from his overcoat to a jacket pocket. He wondered, as he did so, if they did not represent an unnecessary note of strain. Mrs. Barrow smoked only Luckies. It was his idea to puff a few puffs on a Camel (after the rubbing out), stub it out in the ashtray holding her lipstick-stained Luckies, and thus drag a small red herring across the trail. Perhaps it was not a good idea. It would take time. He might even choke, too loudly.

In typical farcical fashion, James Thurber’s “The Catbird Seat” tells the story of mild-mannered office worker Mr. Martin and his plot to kill his boss. It might be problematic by today’s standards that his boss happens to be a woman. Of course, it could have been problematic in 1942 when the story was published. But at the same time, this is humor, dark humor, but still humor. Through the years and decades, I doubt there have been too many humorists and comedians that have been completely inoffensive.

Wonderful Town

I would also make a case that the humor in the story does not come from the fact that the boss is female. The funny aspect comes from the idea that mild, tame, milk-drinking Mr. Martin would plan to kill anyone.

And I suppose I need to call SPOILERS here, but in the end, nobody really gets killed.

This story is included in my copy of Wonderful Town: New York Stories from The New Yorker edited by David Remnick. I read it when I selected the Six of Diamonds for my Deal Me In 2017 short story project. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

 

Nathan Englander: What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 38)

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It is the most glorious, and silliest, and freest I can remember feeling in years. Who would think that’s what I’d be saying with these strict, suffocatingly austere people come to visit our house. And then Deb, my love, once again she is thinking what I’m thinking and she says, face up into the rain, all of us spinning, “Are you sure this is okay, Shoshana? That it’s not mixed dancing? That this is allowed? I don’t want anyone feeling bad after.”

I selected the Two of Clubs for Week 38 of Deal Me In 2017 – my final wild card. So I selected an author whom I’ve heard of for a while now but have yet to read. It’s the title story from Nathan Englander’s 2012 short story collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank: Stories. 

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The narrator’s wife has rekindled an old friendship via social media and has invited her and her husband to visit them in Florida. The narrator and his wife are secular Jewish while the visiting couple are now Hassidic.

Throughout the entire visit, as the reader, I kept thinking in terms of “so close, yet so far away”. Their conversation meanders all over the place from politics to philosophy to religion to history – but it never feels forced. Englander lets the reader know enough about the characters that the conversation is natural for this situation. One minute they are all on the same side with something in common. The next minute they are at odds with each other. This went back and forth to the point that it became something of a game trying to figure out whether they had more in common or more differences. Perhaps this was the point. I found it humorous that one of the activities they had in common was that they all four smoked pot. When the Hassidic husband is asked whether pot is kosher or not, he replies that he is smoking it not eating it.

As the title implies, the Holocaust becomes a topic during the visit and it leads to a rather awkward ending. I mean awkward for the couples not necessarily for the reader.

I borrowed this book from my public library. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Maeve Brennan: I See You, Bianca (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 37)

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At night the patterned ceiling seems to move with the flickering shadows, and in the daytime an occasional shadow drifts slowly across the tin as though it was searching for a permanent refuge. But there is no permanence here – there is only the valiant illusion of a permanence that is hardly more substantial than the shadow that touches it.

What is considered permanent and is there even any such thing? That’s the question that seems to be asked in Maeve Brennan’s 1966 short story “I See You, Bianca”.

The story consists of detailed descriptions of Nicholas’ New York house – somewhere close to Greenwich Village. We don’t know exactly how old Nicholas is, but I get the impression that he isn’t young. Perhaps not elderly, but not young. As the details flow, the reader understands that this house is old and may not be around much longer.

Nicholas doesn’t seem to have much in the way of family and friends. This lack of permanence morphs into a type of lonesomeness but its a lonesomeness that Nicholas appears to not mind. In fact, I don’t know why the term “lonesome” applies here better than the word “lonely”. I don’t think Nicholas is lonely.

Other than his relationship to his house, Nicholas has a relationship with his cat, Bianca. This relationship reminds me of Pi Patel’s relationship to the tiger, Richard Parker, in Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. While Nicholas isn’t in danger from Bianca the way Pi is, the relationship is perhaps one-sided. Both relationships have similar endings.

Wonderful Town

I read this when I selected the Four of Diamonds for Week 37 of my Deal Me In 2017 short story project. It’s included in my copy of Wonderful Town: New York Stories from the New Yorker edited by David Remnick. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Richard Hague: Bait (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 36)

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Richard Hague’s short story “Bait” is a nice little character study riddled with similes. Similes such as:

The water lay silky black between shores, sheer and dark as a negligee.

Or:

…the bright reflection of his face in the mirrored bottles like a moon trapped in a glass.

Or my personal favorite:

She was tired of waiting for life to walk through the door of her shop, the little bell above it ringing like the winner’s gong on a game show.

Of course, maybe that last one has a metaphor in it, too.

“Bait” doesn’t have an intricate plot but it involves LaWanda Heever and her desire to get Sharkey, the barkeep at the Sheep’s Head, away from his wife and kids.  As a reader, I respected Sharkey’s continual rejection of LaWanda’s advances while, at the same time, feeling at least a little sympathy for LaWanda, herself, in spite of her less than noble pursuit. Not every storyteller could pull this off.

Degrees of Elevation

The title comes from the fact that LaWanda owns a bait shop though my guess it has a deeper meaning in the way LaWanda is using herself to lure Sharkey away. This story is included in my copy of Degrees of Elevation: Short Stories of Contemporary Appalachia edited by Charles Dodd White and Page Seay. I read it when I selected the Ace of Clubs for Week 36 of my Deal Me In 2017 short story project. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.