Charles Chesnutt: The Sheriff’s Children

Deal Me In 2019 – Week 8

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While reading Charles Chesnutt’s short story “The Sheriff’s Children”, one clear fact jumped out at me: it’s a well-crafted plot-driven story.  “The Sheriff’s Children” is so succinct in it’s plot and is able to include several surprise plot twists that I don’t want to write much about the plot for fear of giving away too much.

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If there is a general theme to the story, it would be the effect of racism in a small North Carolina community in the late nineteenth century. The sheriff appears to try keeping racism from going too far – which is different from trying to eradicate it completely. The title of the story covers the fact that the sheriff is not as noble as he might think.

Also, as with many nineteenth century stories and novels, the author isn’t afraid to insert his own commentary, although Chesnutt wisely chooses to only make general comments about the location and time period of the story. But he does so in a manner that enhances the story as opposed to simply providing information:

To the east, Sherman’s army had passed on its march to the sea; but no straggling band of “bummers” had penetrated the confines of Branson County. The war, it is true, had robbed the country of the flower of its young manhood; but the burden of taxation, the doubt and uncertainty of the conflict, and the sting of ultimate defeat, had been borne by the people with an apathy that robbed misfortune of half its sharpness.

“The Sheriff’s Children” is included in The Oxford Book of American Short Stories edited by Joyce Carol Oates. I read it when I selected the King of Clubs for Week 8 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.

 

 

 

Sherwood Anderson: The Other Woman

Deal Me In 2019 – Week 7

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“I am in love with my wife,” he said – a superfluous remark, as I had not questioned his attachment to the woman he had married.

For Week 7 of my Deal Me In 2019 short story project, I read Sherwood Anderson’s 1920 story “The Other Woman”. I have to admit that it’s an odd story with a very unreliable narrator. It’s actually a story that someone is telling someone else. While technically the person being told the story is the narrator the majority of the story is what the other person tells the narrator. A little confusing? Yes.

The story teller continues to emphasize to whom he happens to be talking that he really does love his wife. He then tells of the week before he gets married and that he became infatuated – I guess that’s the right word – with the wife of a newspaper stand owner.

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It appears that he does have some sort of encounter with this “other woman” but the story is so disconnected in his mind that the reader wonders what is real and what is not.

He seems to be caught between the innocence of his wife – who seems very innocent – and this “other woman” who seems to know a little more of the ways of the world – if she is even real, that is.

At the beginning of the story, I get the feeling that this man is confessing something to the police or a detective – maybe confessing to a murder. But no murder has occurred. We’re not really even sure to whom he is talking. It’s another man and they are taking a walk. That’s all we know.

There is a sense of disillusionment to this story or maybe it’s more of just an illusion.

“The Other Woman” is included in The Best American Short Stories of the Century edited by John Updike. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Wendell Berry: The Inheritors (A Birthday Short Story Extra)

There came a time in Wheeler Catlett’s old age when the darkness that surrounds all our life in this world began to close in on him. Slowly, as the cloud drew in, it hid the things he knew, until at last we could not tell by any sign he gave that he knew who he was.

It’s my birthday, today, so in celebration, I’m continuing to read Wendell Berry stories and I enjoyed “The Inheritors” very much. It takes place in 1986 and Wheeler Catlett is old – probably elderly. While I’m not quite as old as Wheeler is, each year I get a little closer to elderly – so this story was kind of fun in that regard in spite of the melancholy words I quoted above. Most of the story takes place prior to the situation in these opening lines.

Distant Land

I think the title refers to Wheeler and Danny Branch who take a road trip to Louisville to sell Wheeler’s cattle. They reminisce – well, mostly Wheeler reminisces – about the way things used to be and discuss all the changes that have taken place in farming. Though Danny isn’t necessarily old, he and his wife, Lyda, have continued with the older traditions with which they grew up as opposed to changing their ways like many others have. He doesn’t use a lot of machinery for his farming and most of what they eat, they’ve grown themselves. Since many from the old ways are dead, one could say that Wheeler and Danny, mostly Danny, are the inheritors of these old ways.

The story takes a humorous turn (quite literally) when Wheeler insists on driving home. Wheeler takes the long way and many times the wrong way as Danny at one point realizes he doesn’t have any choice for the next hour but to be a “man of faith” as he lets Wheeler move on down the interstate in the wrong direction:

But there were days all his life when he found the world, though everywhere touched by sadness, to be boundlessly amusing and interesting. This was one of those days. As days went, it wad a good one, and Danny knew it.

Wheeler was again in his level mood, evidently enjoying himself, driving along as if the wrong side of the interstate was simply one of the ways to go home.

 

 

Wendell Berry: Fidelity (A Valentine’s Day Short Story Extra)

“‘I’ve never learned anything until I had to,’ he often said, and so confessed himself a man like other men. But he learned what he had to, and he changed, and so he made himself exceptional.

“He was, I will say, a faithful man.”

It’s Valentine’s Day and I’ve been in the mood to read more stories by Wendell Berry – more than the ones I have on my Deal Me In 2019 list which I’ve already finished with Week 6. So I picked a story titled “Fidelity” thinking maybe it had something to do with marriage or romance.

It doesn’t but I read it anyway.

Distant Land

“Fidelity” is set in Port William, Kentucky – as most of Berry’s stories are – but this time it’s 1977. Burley Coulter is 82 and dying. His friends and family, including his son, Danny Branch, take him to a nearby hospital because they feel it’s what they should do. After thinking about it, Danny sneaks Burley out of the hospital unauthorized, because he knows what his father would really want.

Danny takes his father to the woods where he sets up camp while his father sleeps.

The sections of the story set in the woods with Danny alone with Burley are the most touching and the most mysterious. Danny and Burley always loved the woods – more so than most people – letting Burley die there makes the most sense to Danny.

Other sections of the story are from the perspective of Burley’s friends, relatives and Lyda, Danny’s wife. They all understand Burley has disappeared from the hospital and they all have an idea that Danny took him and none of them feel any kind of remorse or anger at the situation. To them, it all makes sense, too.

Then there are the sections from the perspective of Kyle Bode, the police detective sent to investigate. This makes the story a little unusual in that rarely do readers get such an in depth glimpse of Port William from an outsider. As he attempts to do his job, Bode starts to get “reeled in” by this group of family and friends.

While it’s easy to think this could be a story that is anti-medicine or anti-hospital, I think it’s simply a story of a son and a father who know each other so well that one wants to be faithful to the other even in the face of death.

 

Wendell Berry: The Hurt Man

Deal Me In 2019 – Week 6

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In Wendell Berry’s short story “The Hurt Man”, it’s 1888 in Port William, Kentucky and Mat Feltner is 5 years old. This is a little unusual in that in many of Berry’s stories, Mat Feltner is much older – of course, that’s because they are set in a later time. The older Mat is usually a side character; however, in this story, his five year-old self takes center stage.

The story’s narration also is intriguing in that the third person narrator knows that Mat grows up to tell stories of his childhood to his grandson, Andy Catlett. At the same time, this narrator doesn’t reveal the circumstances around a hurt man being let into Mat’s house by his mother. A saloon is mentioned prior to the incident so it’s possible that the man got into a fight. Was he in the wrong or in the right? We don’t know. But I think that’s part of the point the narrator is trying to make. Mat doesn’t understand all of what’s happening at the age of five but he does understand the look on his mother’s face:

What he saw in her face would remain with him forever. It was pity, but it was more than that. It was a hurt love that seemed to include entirely the hurt man. It included him and disregarded everything else. It disregarded the aura of whiskey that ordinarily she would have resented; it disregarded the blood puddled on the porch floor and the trail of blood through the hall.

Mat, even at five, understands that the circumstances don’t matter to his mother. The hurt is all that matters.

Distant Land

I also enjoyed the way Berry describes Port William in 1888. It’s a newer town than in many of his other stories but in many ways it’s still the same:

The town was the product of its own becoming, which, if not accidental exactly, had also been unplanned. It had no formal government or formal history. It was without pretense or ambition, for it was the sort of place that pretentious or ambitious people were inclined to leave.

This story is included in Wendell Berry’s That Distant Land: The Collected Stories. I read it when I selected the Jack of Diamonds for Week 6 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.

 

The “hidden lives” of Middlemarch

It’s taken me quite a while to get through George Eliot’s Middlemarch. But I don’t think I’ve ever struggled through a novel only to be so taken by the ending – especially the very last words:

…for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts, and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life and rest in unvisited tombs.

The idea that people must do great things to change the world is put to rest by the stories Eliot tells in her novel. The residents of Middlemarch, of which there are many, live their lives and dream their dreams. Some hold on to the status quo with dear life while others bend the rules and go against the grain of tradition. With Eliot’s final words, she brilliantly shows us that the small decisions and the little acts of those in which we are unaware help shape and mold the world into a different place – one that is better for all of us.

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Each character in Eliot’s novel becomes the important one – the protagonist – during the sections of the narrative in which they are involved. How intimate Eliot can make these characters is remarkable. Perhaps it’s easiest to consider Dorothea Brooke the true heroine. She’s the one that goes against the wishes of her husband and the general traditions of her family. She’s the one that grows from a timid girl to a strong woman willing to make needed sacrifices not just for her own happiness but for the happiness of others, too.

Eliot also can paint conversations between individuals as well as anyone. As readers, we get both the outwardly spoken thoughts and and the hidden unspoken ones all at the same time. The several conversations between Dorothea and Will Ladislaw leading up to their final decision are beautifully written and puts the reader in a wonderful suspense waiting to see what might happen.

While this probably isn’t my favorite of Eliot’s novels (of the ones that I’ve read anyway), I’m glad I read it. If I was going to recommend an Eliot novel with which someone might start, it would be Silas MarnerIt has all of Eliot’s wonderful writing – but it’s not as long. And I still intend to read Daniel Deronda, another Eliot novel on my shelf that is on the lengthier side. It just might be a little while before I decide to tackle it.

 

Billy C. Clark: Fur in the Hickory

Deal Me In 2019 – Week 5

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“Not many of the fellows today could carry a gun heavy as a musket. You just ask your ma. She can tell you I always kept meat on the table when she was growing up. You got to get close to your gun, Jacob. Treat it like a woman. But you’re a little young yet to know about that.”

In Billy C. Clark’s short story “Fur in the Hickory”, a grandfather takes his grandson, Jacob, squirrel hunting. There’s not a lot to the story except that Jacob ultimately lets his grandfather be “right” even if he actually is a little off his mark (so to speak).

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The grandfather does the majority of the talking while Jacob does the majority of the listening which gives the reader the idea of how much the grandfather thinks he knows and how much Jacob actually does know. This makes the ending satisfying and gives the story a little humor.

All in all, it was a short story and a sweet story that made me smile. And that’s always worth something.

“Fur in the Hickory” is included in Home and Beyond: An Anthology of Kentucky Short Stories edited by Morris Allen Grubbs. I read it when I selected the Six of Hearts for Week 5 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.