Raymond Carver: Are These Actual Miles?

Deal Me In 2019 – Week 4

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He remembers waking up the morning after they bought the car, seeing it, there in the drive, in the sun, gleaming.

This is the second week in a row in which the story I’ve read deals with people in financial trouble – interesting coincidence.

Raymond Carver’s story “Are These Actual Miles?” contains characters and situations that are more realistic than last week’s “The Drowned Life” by Jeffrey Ford but I think I like Ford’s story better.

“Are These Actual Miles?” has a husband sending his wife out to sell their car. Unfortunately, while specific details are not supplied, the story implies that the wife is selling more than just the car.

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This is the first story by Carver that I’ve read. His writing style is short and to the point similar to Ernest Hemingway; however, this story could be set in any old American suburb which is different from many of the exotic settings in Hemingway’s stories.

Carver lets the reader guess as to whether the husband actually knows everything that the wife could be doing in selling the car. Both the anger and the helplessness of the husband is palpable as the story comes to an end hinting that the husband probably knows more than Carver lets on.

This story is included in The Oxford Book of American Short Stories edited by Joyce Carol Oates. I read it when I selected the Five of Clubs for Week 4 of my Deal Me In 2019 short story project. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Jeffrey Ford: The Drowned Life

Deal Me In 2019 – Week 3

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Hatch floated down the long empty avenues of Drowned Town, a shabby but quiet city in a lime green sea. Every so often, he’d pass one of the citizens, bloated and blue in various stages of decomposition, and say, “Hi.”

One might call Jeffrey Ford’s short story “The Drowned Life” surreal. At the same time, the term surreal in some way implies that there is no “real” meaning behind a story or behind a plot. This is not the case with “The Drowned Life”. In fact, Ford tells us early on that a literal shark represents “Financial Ruin” and then proceeds to call the shark Financial Ruin for the rest of the story.

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As the protagonist, Hatch, attempts to “keep his head above water” both literally and figuratively (or maybe neither, I don’t know?), he finally gives up bailing and lets himself drown – as Financial Ruin swims around him.

While Hatch explores Drowned Town, he worries about his wife and sons and attempts to get back to dry land. Drowned Town is filled with both the macabre and the hilarious – which gives Ford kudos at least by my standards. It’s great when an author can make something genuinely scary and genuinely funny.

I think what could technically be considered surreal are the bizarre images of fish-like creatures and half-decayed human beings – both of which interact with Hatch though not necessarily in Hatch’s best interest.

I have a hard time thinking this story will be a favorite by the end of the year, but it’s my favorite one of the three I’ve read so far.

This story is included in The Oxford Book of American Short Stories edited by Joyce Carol Oates. I read it when I selected the King of Hearts for Week 3 of my Deal Me In 2019 short story project. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

 

Edmund White: Give It Up For Billy

Deal Me In 2019 – Week 2

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In Edmund White’s short story “Give It Up For Billy”, Harold vacations to Key West amidst a pervasive feeling of alienation and loneliness. Is this feeling because he is gay? Possibly. Could it be because he is turning 64? Probably. Is it because he’s just plain human? Yeah, that could be it, too.

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White develops Harold into a character that might not be exactly likable but he is definitely relatable  regardless of whether one is gay, straight, old, young, male, female. Harold feels like those closest to him are using him. In spite of his professorship at Princeton, he questions if he has been successful or if what he has accomplished matters.

Does White allow Harold to realize answers to his questions? Maybe. But any story coming close to realism as it grapples with existential issues isn’t going to be definite about the answers:

A small, peevish voice somewhere inside of him said, “See? He was just using you and everyone else.” But then Harold smiled, pleased at the simplifying form things had taken.

This story is included in The Oxford Book of American Short Stories edited by Joyce Carol Oates. I read it when I selected the Three of Clubs for Week 2 of my Deal Me In 2019 short story project. My Deal Me In list can be seen here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

 

Stuck in the middle of Middlemarch

Occasionally I come across books that I try to read and then come to the conclusion that life is too short for me to spend so much time to get through a specific book. George Eliot’s Middlemarch is NOT one of those books; however, given how long it’s taking me to read it, anyone might think it should be in this category.

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I can make the excuse that I started reading it just as my busy season at work began. Next time, I won’t try to read a book of this magnitude during this time of year. But I do plan on finishing it.

I’m right in the middle of the novel, now. The depth of character and Eliot’s ability to paint so much of the human condition into a small provincial town amazes me. Dorothea Brooke appears to be the protagonist among a large variety of people. And the main plot twist at the moment seems to be the reading of a will – something that rarely fails to intrigue.

Have you read Middlemarch? How long did it take you and what was your experience with the novel? What books have you not been able to finish that everyone else seems to like?

Wendell Berry: The Wild Birds

Deal Me In 2019 – Week 1

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“It’s wayward, Wheeler. I knowed you’d say what you’ve said. Or anyhow think it. I know it seems wayward to you. But wayward is the way it is. And always has been. The way a place in this world is passed on in time is not regular or plain, Wheeler. It goes pretty close to accidental. But how else could it go? Neither a deed or a will, no writing at all can tell you much about it. Even when it looks regular and plain, you know that somewhere it has been chancy, and just slipped by.”

In Wendell Berry’s short story “The Wild Birds”, Burley Coulter is an old man seeing Wheeler Catlett to draw up a will – a will that leaves his farm to his son Danny Branch who was born out of wedlock to Kate Helen Branch. Burley has treated Danny as a son but never married Kate Helen who has already died.

This is one of Wendell Berry’s stories in which it’s helpful to have read his other works involving the small Kentucky town of Port William. The circumstances between Burley, Kate Helen and Danny are well-known to the rest of the community and there is an interesting on-going tension. Nobody really outright condemns Burley or Kate Helen and in many cases treat all three as family – not just to each other but to the community as a whole. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t unspoken thoughts and judgments that have lingered for years and that’s the case with Wheeler Catlett, Burley’s lawyer.

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The lengthy but touching conversation that takes place in Wheeler’s office occurs with Burley’s relatives who would most likely inherit his farm if a will was not perpared. They are on Burley’s side as they already have a farm – and don’t need more.

Berry movingly brings the conversation to a realization on the part of both men that the underlying hurt doesn’t need to go on. Much of the conversation involves stories and memories of when the men were younger and ultimately the need for forgiveness emerges. A forgiveness that both men willingly give and accept:

The office is crowded now with all that they have loved, the living remembered, the dead brought back to mind, and a gentle, forceless light seems to have come with them. There in the plain, penumbral old room, that light gathers the four of them into its shadowless embrace. For a time without speaking they sit together in it.

This story is included in Wendell Berry’s collection of short stories That Distant Land. I read it when I selected the Ten of Diamonds for Week 1 of my Deal Me In 2019 short story project. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.