Posted in Short Stories

Flannery O’Connor: The Barber

Deal Me In 2016 – Week 26

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flannery oconnor

It is trying on liberals in Dilton.

“The Barber” is one of Flannery O’Connor’s earlier stories. The potential for what is to come can be clearly seen here.

Rayber tells his barber that he is voting Democrat. The barber proceeds to tell Rayber why he is wrong using numerous racial slurs.

Rayber leaves and writes an argument which he ultimately delivers to the barber the next time he gets his haircut.

O’Connor establishes the barbershop and its patrons as the norm by making them boisterous and animated. She makes Rayber timid and fearful even as he openly disagrees with everyone.

The beginning of O’Connor’s comedic style comes through as Rayber eventually storms out of the barbershop still with shaving creme and apron.

As one might guess, nobody’s mind is really changed.



Posted in Short Stories

Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Maypole of Merry Mount

Deal Me In 2019 – Week 25

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Had a wanderer, bewildered in the melancholy forest, heard their mirth, and stolen a half-affrighted glance, he might have fancied them the crew of Comus, some already transformed to brutes, some midway between man and beast, and the others rioting in the flow of tipsy jollity that foreran the change. But a band of Puritans, who watched the scene, invisible themselves, compared the masques to those devils and ruined souls with whom their superstition peopled the black wilderness.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Maypole of Merry Mount” combines ancient story-telling with New World sensibilities which might describe much of Hawthorne’s work. This story has a sort of “Adam and Eve” feel with a twist.

Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Lord and Lady of May celebrate their wedding around the Maypole in Merry Mount where many such celebrations occur with costumes, fanfare, and laughter. Contrast this with the Puritans spying on them. The Puritan governor chastises them for their merry-making and encourages them out of the their “Eden”. It’s interesting to try to determine whether the Puritans stand in for Satan or for God in the “Adam and Eve” story.  I go with the former as the governor seems to use persuasion with the young couple instead of the force he uses with the rest of the colony. A persuasion similarly used by the serpent in Eden. The couple leaves Merry Mount along with the joy they knew there

Posted in Short Stories

Carolyn Ferrell: Proper Library

Deal Me In 2019 – Week 24

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The last day Rakeem and I were together, I told him I wanted to go back, to school, to everyone. The words, I tried to explain about the words to Rakeem. I could welcome him into my world if he wanted me to. Hey, wasn’t there enough room for him and me and the words?

Interestingly enough, Carolyn Ferrell’s short story “Proper Library” also has no quotation marks – just like last week’s story “The Girl With the Pimply Face” by William Carlos Williams. The lack of quotation marks in “Proper Library” provides just as much confusion, yet, I would say it makes a more positive impact on the reading experience.

short stories century

Just like “The Girl With the Pimply Face”, “Proper Library” is set in New York City, the Bronx to be exact. And while Lorrie (short for Lawrence) narrates the story, it seems his neighborhood and community plays a large role – a role that is amplified by the many characters and many conversations that occur and, yes, the lack of quotation marks.

Lorrie is caught between his love for another boy (potentially a bad influence), his self-induced responsibility for the younger children in his family: brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces, nephews, and his desire to lift himself out of his family’s situation through continuing his education. He taught himself Math from the “Math 4” book and learns new words everyday.

While it seems Lorrie is finally choosing school, we know too much about his family and community to feel like this will be his final choice once and for all. Too many forces come together in conflict for the reader to feel firmly that Lorrie will do what’s best for himself.

This story is included in The Best American Short Stories of the Century edited by John Updike. My Deal Me In list can be seen here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.



Posted in Short Stories

William Carlos Williams: The Girl With the Pimply Face (quotation marks or no quotation marks?)

Deal Me In 2019 – Week 23

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When’s your mother coming back do you think, I asked again.

Maybe in an hour. But maybe you’d better come some time when my father’s here. He talks English. He ought to come in around five I guess.

But can’t you tell me something about the baby? I hear it’s been sick. Does it have a fever?

I dunno.

William Carlos Williams short story “The Girl With the Pimply Face” contains a phenomenon that is not that uncommon anymore in fiction. It doesn’t contain quotation marks in spite of the significant amount of dialogue and conversation.

I did a quick google search to see what information is out there on why some authors do this and found a couple of ideas.

oxford short stories

It seems some authors might do this to give the story a more poetic feel. Since William Carlos Williams is probably better known for his poetry than his prose, this could be the reason. However, while this might make the story look poetic, I don’t really find the reading of the story to be any more poetic without quotation marks.

Another reason I found for authors to do this is that they want to give the story a more “impressionist” style. Impressionism in painting might remove the specific borders between shapes and have one shape blend into another one. I found this reason to be a little more concrete with “The Girl With the Pimply Face”. The many characters give a collective impression of Russian immigrants to the doctor called to help them. The numerous lines of dialogue don’t necessarily delineate one character from another though with just a little effort, the reader can figure out who is speaking.

While there is a lot of information and opinions out there on this topic, here is where I found the most clear and concise information.

What is your opinion about quotation marks, “The Girl With the Pimply Face” or William Carlos Williams?

This is the first of his works that I’ve read. It’s included in The Oxford Book of American Short Stories edited by Joyce Carol Oates. I read it when I selected the Jack of Clubs for Week 23 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.


Posted in Short Stories

Wendell Berry: Dismemberment

Andy and Danny are the last gone. Perhaps, as they each secretly pray, they may be among the first of a time yet to come, when Port William will be renewed, again settled and flourishing. They anyhow are links between history and possibility, as they keep the old stories alive by telling them to their children.

Wendell Berry’s short story “Dismemberment”, published in 2015, to my knowledge is his most recent story. It’s included in the 2016 version of The O. Henry Prize Stories.

o henry prize

Andy Catlett is 40 years old in 1974 when his hand is cut off in a farming accident. While the incident itself is shocking, Catlett goes through many of the usual things anyone would go through with this type of life-changing injury: grief, anger, withdrawal. What I appreciate about Berry is that he makes me want to read stories about “the usual”. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of surprises in many of Berry’s stories but one doesn’t have to get surprised to consider the story to be compelling. I don’t view getting one’s hand cut off to be usual but the focus of the story is how Andy deals with it. He eventually comes around to acceptance and a realization that even though his hand is gone, his family and friends are still there:

“Between us,” says Danny Branch, “we’ve got three hands. Everybody needs at least three. Nobody ever needed more.”

And its not uncommon in Berry’s more recent stories that after he has reached back into some part of the past, he reaches forward to the present. If the present is the time of publication of this story, Andy Catlett is 81 years old (the same age as Berry, himself, at this time). This reaching across the decades gives the reader the sense that Andy kept going even without his hand.



Posted in Short Stories

Tim Gautreaux: Good For the Soul

Deal Me In 2019 – Week 22

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Mr. Arceneaux looked at the ceiling, the corners of his flaccid mouth turning down. “I don’t know. There’s one thing I ain’t told you yet.”

“Well, it’s now or never.” The priest was instantly sorry for saying this, and Clyde gave him a questioning look before glancing down at his purple feet.

I wasn’t sure exactly where Tim Gautreaux’s short story “Good For the Soul” was headed at first. Father Ledet, in the middle of his brandy, gets a call for the Annointing of the Sick for a parishioner in the hospital. While driving there, not long after his brandy, he sideswipes the car of another parishioner who ends up at the hospital with a painful but not life-threatening injury. All this resulting in a DWI for the priest.

Catholic Short stories

With an interconnection of confessions, the priest gets caught up in a humorous attempt to make right one of the “sins” of the sick parishioner. While Father Ledet hands out a small penance, the priest, himself, seems to be the one taking up the slack for the hospitalized man’s misdeed.

The more I think about this story, the funnier it gets. At the same time, Gautreaux inserts Patrolman Vic Garafola to provide a slight moral compass – just enough to keep the overarching plot humorous without making drunk driving funny.

This story is included in The Best American Catholic Short Stories edited by Daniel McVeigh and Patricia Schnapp. I read it when I selected the Nine of Hearts for Week 22 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.