Posted in Short Stories

Walter Tevis: Rent Control


Deal Me In 2020 – Week 9

For Week 9 of my Deal Me In 2020 short story project, the Deal Me In fates gave me a second author in a row who has had his writing turned into highly acclaimed films. Two of Walter Tevis’s novels were adapted into films starring Paul Newman: The Hustler and The Color of Money.

Tevis’s short story “Rent Control” is included in Home and Beyond: An Anthology of Kentucky Short Stories edited by Morris Allen Grubbs. Check out my Deal Me In 2020 list here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

The premise of “Rent Control” is a simple one even if it’s a little odd. Terry and Edith figure out that they can stop time whenever they touch each other while they are in Edith’s loft bed. When they stop touching, time starts up again. At least it works this way for them. Who knows what is going on with the rest of the world? So they gradually begin seeing how much time or how much stopped time they can spend in bed. It becomes humorous the lengths they go to but it seems to work for them:

Deep in themselves they had become a Pharaoh’s dream of endless time; they had found the pyramid that kept the flow of the world away.

As one might think, things don’t stay “dreamy”. Controlling time this way isn’t everything that it’s cracked up to be. The story is funny and maybe thought-provoking but this premise is pretty much it. In a word – entertaining.

Are you familiar with Walter Tevis? Have you read any of his short stories or novels?


Posted in Short Stories

Tennessee Williams: The Resemblance Between a Violin Case and a Coffin

Deal Me In 2020 – Week 8

Tennessee Williams is best known for his plays of which some are considered the best of the Twentieth Century American stage including A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Glass Menagerie. These also have been adapted into highly acclaimed films.

I don’t know how well-known he is for his short stories but his 1951 story “The Resemblance Between a Violin Case and a Coffin” proves his genius with the English language whether on the stage or the page. It also tackles a controversial topic for its time with a grace and an honesty.  It’s a beautifully written story about a young boy and his first crush which happens to be on an older boy.

The narrator is Tom looking back on his pre-teen years when his best friend, his older sister, starts to grow up. As she takes piano lessons in her home, a seventeen year-old violinist Richard begins to accompany her. Tom begins a secret infatuation with Richard by watching them practice from his bedroom doorway.

The feelings Tom has for Richard could be considered a sort of hero-worship or maybe jealousy that his sister is growing away from him. While possibly these things exist, he realizes other things are happening, too:

The transference of my interest to Richard now seemed complete. I would barely notice my sister at the piano, groaned at her repeated blunders only in sympathy for him. When I recall what a little puritan I was in those days, there must have been a shocking ambivalence in my thoughts and sensations as I gazed down upon him through the crack of the door. How on earth did I explain to myself, at that time, the fascination of his physical being without, at the same time, confessing to myself that I was a little monster? Or was that actually before I had begun to associate the sensual with the impure, an error that tortured me during and after pubescence, or did I, and this seems most likely, now, say to myself, “Yes, Tom, you’re a monster! But that’s how it is and there’s nothing to be done about it.”

There is a genteel southern charm about the way Tom retells this story that both polishes the edges of his younger self’s confusion and explains the likely reason he feels like a monster. One gets the idea that Tom eventually accepts who he is.

This story is included in The Best American Short Stories of the Century edited by John Updike. I read it when I selected the King of Spades for Week 8 of my Deal Me In 2020 short story project. Check out my Deal Me In 2020 list here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

What has been your experience with Tennessee Williams? Have you read any of his short stories? Or are you more familiar with his plays?

Posted in Fiction

Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt

“This is a land lying in destruction, physical and spiritual. If the twisted railroads and the burned cities and the fields covered with the bones of dead men – if that were all, we could soon rise out of the destruction. But the hate that burns in old scars, and the thirst for revenge that has distorted men until they should be in straitjackets rather than in high office – these are the things that may make peace a sorry thing…”

It’s been a while since I’ve read a book that was marketed toward children but I’ve always thought that a good story is a good story and Irene Hunt’s 1964 novel Across Five Aprils fits that bill. It reminds me some of Esther Forbe’s novel Johnny Tremain if only because it’s a well told story about a young boy caught up in American history.

Jethro Creighton is nine years old in April of 1861 living in southern Illinois. He’s the youngest child of a large family. He has older brothers and relatives leaving to fight with the Union Army. He also has an older brother, one to which he is especially close, that leaves to fight with the Rebel Army.

Politics, a president who is tremendously loved and tremendously hated, a media spinning events in drastically different ways, military generals nobody can quite understand, and lots and lots of opinions by just about everyone: this is the world Jethro lives in, the world Jethro works in and plays in.

We only hear of battles through letters written to Jethro or his other family members. This gives an interesting perspective because in many ways, Jethro’s life is the same as it has always been – helping on the farm, going to school, and making the occasional trip to Newton or Olney, the nearest towns. But the war makes permanent and drastic changes.

A minor but important character is Ross Milton, the editor of the small town Newton newspaper. Hunt makes him out to be the noble journalist seeking out the truth and trying to help Jethro understand it in the midst of so much fact-spinning and opinion-spouting. At the end of the novel, five Aprils later as the title implies, Milton gives Jethro his take on what the nation will now be like in the conversation I quoted above. He doesn’t paint Jethro a very rosy picture – but perhaps the most honest one he can find.



Posted in Short Stories

Ron Rash: The Baptism

A Birthday Short Story Extra

Since today is my birthday, I thought I might start a birthday tradition to use this day as sort of a fifth wild card for my Deal Me In 2020 short story project. I realize that I can read a story whenever I want but there’s something about a tradition.

At the library not too long ago, I saw that the 2018 edition of the Best American Short Stories edited by Roxanne Gay included the story “The Baptism” by Ron Rash. A few years ago I read Rash’s collection Something Rich and Strange: Selected Stories and found it to be full of great short stories mostly set in Appalachian North Carolina. So I was excited to read one that I hadn’t read before and “The Baptism” didn’t disappoint.

“You believe Gunter capable of such change?”

“No,” Reverend Yates answered, “but God is capable. It is the mystery of grace. I cannot be true to my responsibilities if I doubt the possibility.”

Reverend Yates provides this answer to members of his congregation who don’t support the baptism of the community’s most ruthless husband. Just to be clear, Reverend Yates’ response comes out of shear responsibility. It’s more head knowledge than heart felt. His run-ins with Gunter make this situation more personal than it might have been.

Gunter’s baptism takes place outside on a very cold day in January and Rash describes this chill so vividly I felt like I was getting frostbite just reading it. The story’s ending has a Flannery O’Connor feel to it and Rash provides a sort of suspense. The reader can sense something is going to happen but can’t quite tell which way it will turn. All the better to keep reading!

Destiny or free will? Grace or revenge? All questions easily asked but maybe not so easily answered when everything is said and done. Go ahead and read it yourself and see what you think?

Here are my posts about Something Rich and Strange:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Another favorite Ron Rash story is Chemistry, also from Something Rich and Strange.


Posted in Short Stories

Philip F. Deaver: Silent Retreats

Deal Me In 2020 – Week 7

One Monday morning on the way to work, the traffic pausing behind school buses, Martin Wolf was suddenly struck by the circularity of life and began to sob. Or maybe it wasn’t the circularity but something made him sob and he thought that was it.

While Philip F. Deaver’s short story “Silent Retreats” involves faith and spirituality, it also involves doubt. In fact, doubt is probably the bigger theme. We never understand exactly what triggers Martin Wolf’s crisis of faith but that’s probably because he doesn’t either. Sometimes I thought maybe he just needed a good cry which he does on numerous occasions throughout the story.

The title comes from Martin’s attempt to find out from a priest where he could go on a silent retreat. According to the priest, silent retreats aren’t really “the thing” anymore. Most retreats involve getting into small groups and sharing. It doesn’t come as a surprise that this doesn’t appeal to Martin.

Deaver puts enough humor into this story to keep it from being a complete downer but he keeps Martin’s struggle real. It was a little funny how Martin spooked the school librarian when he showed up just to “see” his son in the first grade. The author also makes Martin’s doubt real by not giving the story a nice resolution. Martin doesn’t get any of his questions answered and he never actually gets his silent retreat but we are left with the idea that perhaps he might be on his way toward finding at least a few answers.

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 Ace of Diamonds for Week 7 of my Deal Me In short story project. Check out my Deal Me In 2020 list here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

This is the first story by Philip F. Deaver that I’ve read. I have one more on my DMI 2020 list. Have you read any of Deaver’s stories? If so, which ones would you suggest?



Posted in Short Stories

Raymond Carver: The Bath

Deal Me In 2020 – Week 6

The cake would be ready Monday morning, in plenty of time for the party Monday afternoon. This was all the baker was willing to say. No pleasantries, just this small exchange, the barest information, nothing that was not necessary.

This quotation from Raymond Carver’s short story “The Bath” could describe all of Carver’s stories – well, at least the three that I’ve read as of now.

A mother orders a cake for her eight year-old son’s birthday prior to her son being hit by a car. While their son is in a possible coma, the mother and father take turns going home. Both try to take a bath to calm themselves down only to be interrupted by the baker on the telephone demanding they pick up the cake.

Carver lets the reader feel a sense of dread and sadness from the parents. But how is the reader suppose to feel about the baker? In some ways, because we know what’s going on, it’s easy to feel angry at the baker. But then because he doesn’t know what’s going on, I couldn’t help but find something humorous in the whole situation. These conflicting feelings are both jarring and extremely satisfying for a story that doesn’t have any resolution.

This story is included in Raymond Carver’s collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love: Stories. I read it when I selected the Two of Diamonds for Week 7 of my Deal Me In 2020 short story project. I’ve designated the Two’s as wild cards so I decided to read a Raymond Carver story recommended to me by Jason at There Will Come Soft Rains. Check out my Deal Me In 2020 list here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Posted in Fiction

The Red Badge of Courage

He had rid himself of the red sickness of battle. The sultry nightmare was in the past. He had been an animal blistered and sweating in the heat and pain of war. He turned now with a lover’s thirst to images of tranquil skies, fresh meadows, cool brooks, an existence of soft and eternal peace

Over the river a golden ray of sun came through the hosts of leaden rain clouds.

My English teacher during my senior year in high school chastised my class for never having read Stephen Crane’s novel The Red Badge of Courage calling us a “literary desert”.

So I immediately went out and read it.

No, just kidding. It’s funny the things we remember from high school which for me was several decades ago. Call me rebellious but I have just now read it.

Was it worth the wait? Maybe.

What I found surprising and quite interesting was how much internal thought the reader gets from the protagonist Henry Fleming a Union soldier in the American Civil War. And this thought goes back and forth between cowardice and bravery, between pride and humility. If I had to pick a theme for the novel it might be shame. Fleming deserts his company during battle but makes his way back. His fear of being found out presents itself in many forms not least of which is when he finally proves himself in another battle.

Based on the ending of the novel which I quoted above, the reader gets the feeling that Fleming conquers both his fear and his shame.

What are your thoughts? Did he conquer his shame? Does he deserve the peace that he seems to eventually find? Or have you just not read it yet like me for so many years?