Posted in Short Stories

John Updike: Snowing in Greenwich Village (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 44)

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Wonderful Town

Richard’s suspicion on the street that he was trespassing beyond the public gardens of courtesy turned to certain guilt.

John Updike’s “Snowing in Greenwich Village” is a masterpiece in nuance, subtlety and unspoken tension. I don’t know why I want to keep making fun of it. Perhaps I keep thinking about the moment when Richard offers his guest, Rebecca, some cashews. This small gesture occupies at least a couple of paragraphs. Perhaps it’s because when Richard’s wife, Joan, insists on Richard walking Rebecca home because it’s snowing (hence the title), I want to shake my head and say “Joan, Joan, Joan…poor, naive Joan”.

At the same time, I have to ask myself the question that maybe Joan isn’t as naive as I initially think. Published in 1956, maybe Updike portrays a more “progressive” couple – or a couple with more problems than we initially understand. Given that the reader can notice the sexual tension between Richard and Rebecca without having it mentioned, maybe Joan can too. Maybe Joan doesn’t care if something happens with Richard and Rebecca. Joan’s thoughts in the story are more difficult to get to so I think she makes for the more intriguing character. As Richard walks Rebecca up the stairs to her apartment, the reader doesn’t have to wonder what his thoughts are. But that doesn’t mean that what the reader thinks is going to happen necessarily does.

In spite of the humor that I find in the story that I’m not sure is suppose to be there, I think this story could very easily end up on my top ten list at the end of the year. I read it when I selected the Five of Diamonds for Week 44 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.


Posted in Short Stories

Sheldon Lee Compton: Snapshot ’87 (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 43)

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He didn’t want to die messed up. A couple of times he tried to burn a box or two in the split barrel to keep warm, but it was no use. And then it didn’t matter. Oblivion kept him warm. His laughter was out of place and the rats stayed away.

The curious aspect of Sheldon Lee Compton’s short story “Snapshot ’87” is the title. I think it might come from the fact that the story is a day in the life of George, a coal miner. I assume perhaps that it’s set in 1987 based on the title. Not much of the story’s detail would provide specific evidence of the year.

Degrees of Elevation

This snapshot consists mostly of pain killers and George’s young son Russell. The pain killers provide proof of the bleak despair with which George lives while Russell is the glimmer of hope in his life. The writing is some of the best I’ve read in the collection Degrees of Elevation: Short Stories of Contemporary Appalachia (edited by Charles Dodd White and Page Seay). The reader feels George’s pain as he desperately forces a smile for his son.

I read this story when I selected the Nine of Spades for Week 43 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.

Posted in Short Stories

Denton Loving: Casting Out (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 42)

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I was mesmerized, sure flames would leap up from the ground at any moment. Everything in my head seemed to run together. I felt like I was walking in darkness, feeling my way forward with one foot before the other. I was afraid of falling down. And in my mind’s eye, I saw Vonda throwing handfuls of pure fire from her magic bag…

Denton Loving’s short story “Casting Out” provides an example of what I’ve found often in the writing of Appalachian authors. While Loving’s tone in the story sympathizes with the modern characters that don’t necessarily believe in the brand of religion practiced by the older mountain dwellers, the plot itself at least pays homage or respect to these outdated ideas.

Degrees of Elevation

In many of the contemporary stories (of which this is one) I’ve read in Degrees of Elevation: Short Stories of Contemporary Appalachia (edited by Charles Dodd White and Page Seay), the old and the new collide but it never seems to be a typical generation gap story. It’s easy for even the younger generation to be suspicious of anything different – which includes anything new.

I read this story when I selected the Six of Spades for Week 42 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.


Posted in Short Stories

S. J. Perelman: Farewell, My Lovely Appetizer (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 41)

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Wonderful Town

By the time I worked back to the Arbogast Building, via the Weehawken ferry and the George Washington Bridge to cover my tracks, all the pieces were in place. Or so I thought up to the point she came out of the wardrobe holding me between the sights of her ice-blue automatic.

Of all the stories on my Deal Me In 2017 list, S. J. Perelman’s “Farewell, My Lovely Appetizer” is the one I was most curious about solely based on the unusual title. It turns out to be nothing as I expected. It’s a noir-style private detective story with a comical twist although I find many noir-style private detective stories funny whether they are meant to be or not.

Private Detective Mike Noonan attempts to find out why his client’s husband’s herring is pink – even though herring is usually pink. I found the story enjoyable probably because it’s short at around 6 pages. It also doesn’t try to be more than what it is. There’s great writing and great humor with some nice give and take between Mike and his client:

“I go for girls named Sigrid with opal eyes,” I said.

“Where’d you learn my name?”

“I haven’t been a private snoop twelve years for nothing, sister.”

“It was nine last time.”

“It seemed like twelve till you came along.”

I read this story when I selected the Three of Hearts for Week 41 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.

Posted in Fiction

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Mansfield Park

All went well – she did not dislike her own looks; and when she came to the necklaces again, her good fortune seemed complete…

I finally finished Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park or as I’ve affectionately come to call it “A Tale of Two Necklaces”. Of course, it’s not really about necklaces; however, in the middle of the novel when the heroine Fanny Price receives necklaces as gifts before going to a ball in her honor – the gifts being from two critical characters in the story – I couldn’t help but put this small detail in a category of what I would call “a nice touch”.

Before reading this novel, I had heard plenty of general thoughts about it not the least of which were from members of my family. Most of the thoughts (family and otherwise), were not positive. While I understand some of the negativity surrounding it, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. I realize that Fanny Price, all meek and mild and timid, can be considered different from other Austen heroines. She doesn’t initially come across as very strong of mind and will.

The reader tends to get most of their understanding of Fanny from the numerous characters around her. They rarely get into Fanny’s thoughts. It seems to always be what others think of her. The reader doesn’t necessarily get Fanny’s own opinion until she shows significant resolve in the face of everyone around her when she refuses the marriage proposal of Henry Crawford. Her rationale proves everyone else wrong even if this part of the story may be a little over the top. I thought it still worked.

Then there is the puzzling aspect of the play that the family and visitors of Mansfield Park decide to perform. As I read this part of the novel, I feel as though most of the characters are wanting to live vicariously through the play – a sort of ‘lets set aside all of the social norms of our day without actually setting them aside.” I wonder if Jane lived vicariously through the characters she created.

Jane Austen Read All

In the end, things work out for Fanny as they have in the other of Jane’s novels I’ve read. I still consider Pride and Prejudice my favorite but I have a high appreciation for Mansfield Park. I read this for the Jane Austen Read All Along over at James Reads Books. Up next for October is Emma. I just started it but I think I will enjoy it as much as I’ve enjoyed Jane’s other novels.

Even though I refer to other authors by their last name, it just seems right to refer to Jane Austen as Jane.

Posted in Short Stories

Renata Adler: Brownstone (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 40)

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When I wonder what it is that we are doing – in this brownstone, on this block, with this paper – the truth is probably that we are fighting for our lives.

My lack of New York City knowledge made me look up exactly what a brownstone was after I read Renata Adler’s short story “Brownstone”.  I knew it was a type of house but I couldn’t quite get a picture of it. Google images gave me exactly what I needed. And based on the story, it appears brownstones can be divided into apartments.

Wonderful Town

The female narrator of the story lives in a brownstone with a man named Aldo. They both are writers and numerous other people come in and out of the Brownstone of which, as the reader, we get bits and pieces of information. In fact “bits and pieces of information” might be the best way to describe this story. From more or less stream of consciousness, we understand that mental illness seems to play a part somewhere – whether its the narrator herself or one of her acquaintances is difficult to say. A murdered landlord is just one of the bits and pieces – it happens to be one of the more sensational ones. The story by no means revolves around the murder.

As with most of these stories from my anthology Wonderful Town: New York Stories from The New Yorker (edited by David Remnick), there does seem to be something specifically “New York” in the way the people live in close proximity to each other and the way they interact. On the other hand, I can’t help but wonder would it be that much different if the story was about an apartment complex in, say, Paducah, Kentucky?

I read this story when I selected the Jack of Hearts for Week 40 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.