Posted in Short Stories

Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Great Carbuncle

Deal Me In 2020 – Week 22

At nightfall, once in the olden time, on the rugged side of one of the Crystal Hills, a party of adventurers were refreshing themselves, after a toilsome and fruitless quest for the Great Carbuncle.

I had to look up what a carbuncle was and all I got was “a large boil”. Since that didn’t seem to align with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “The Great Carbuncle”, I dug a little deeper to find that a carbuncle is also the name of any red gemstone usually a garnet. This second definition fits with Hawthorne’s story. With the use of the word “Great”, I get the idea that this red gemstone is large in size.

A band of people of different backgrounds have come together to search for the Great Carbuncle in a fashion that reminds me of Ocean’s Eleven. The odd aspect is that while they are all traveling and searching together, they each have their own idea of what they will do with the treasure once they find it. There is never any real explanation as to how the little group got together but as they stop for the night, the story shifts focus to the married couple of the bunch. They seem to be the most genuine and the least arrogant; however, they still want the stone for themselves.

Themes of selfishness show up as the story takes us to a Raiders of the Lost Ark ending. For whatever reason, this story, written well before the advent of movies, made me think of specific movies. I guess everything that is old does become new again.

This story is included in the collection The Celestial Railroad and Other Stories. I read it when I selected the Three of Clubs for week 22 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.




Posted in Short Stories

Jane Mayhall: The Men

Deal Me In 2020 – Week 21

The head was finely shapeddark-haired. But the very self-conscious style of him seemed to add to the charm. What could equal the stance, the quick lightning movements of the body, or the severe control of its quietness?

I think there’s more to Jane Mayhall’s short story “The Men” than first meets the eye – although “meeting the eye” might in some way be the point.

As an 11 year-old girl, the narrator sees a ballet and during a solo performance, a male dancer makes an impression on her. Fast forward to her high school years and a male librarian smiles at her briefly. Then on to New York City and a male University professor somehow makes her feel comfortable.

This is the entire story. I could call these “encounters” but even that implies some sort of relationship even a limited one. I think the better description would be “observations”. Can observing strangers have an impact on your life? This story would say “yes”. It could be an unusual but accurate look into the mind of an artist.

This story is included in Home and Beyond: An Anthology of Kentucky Short Stories edited by Morris Allen Grubbs. I read it when I selected the Jack of Diamonds for 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.

Posted in Short Stories

Nathaniel Hawthorne: My Kinsman, Major Molineux

Deal Me In 2020 – Week 20

“I say friend! will you guide me to the house of my kinsman, Major Molineux?”

Sometimes the journey is better than the destination. Sometimes the set-up is better than the punchline. This might describe Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “My Kinsman, Major Molineux”. But I don’t know if it’s a criticism of the story or if it might be the point.

The protagonist, Robin, arrives in town to find his kinsman so he can start a career of some sort. His search brings him in contact with numerous quirky characters who know of Robin’s kinsman but won’t exactly tell him where he can find him. The reader gets a feeling that Major Molineux isn’t who Robin thinks he is. Maybe the ending isn’t so much a disappointment to the reader as it is to Robin.

This is Nathaniel Hawthorne so the story is of course well-written. Is there a moral to the story as Hawthorne stories so often have? It might be a cheery nod to the Protestant Work Ethic.

This story is included in The Celestial Railroad and Other Stories. I read it when I selected the Five of Clubs for Week 20 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.

Posted in Fiction

William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury

William Faulkner’s The Sound and The Fury is a mystery of sorts, an unveiling, a slow surprise culminating in a heart-breaking, breath-taking scene. Dilsey, the Compson family’s African American servant woman takes the mentally disabled Benjy Compson’s head in her lap to comfort his crying:

“We’s down to worse’n dis, ef folks jes knowed,” she said. “You’s de Lawd’s chile, anyway. En I be His’n too, fo long…

Benjy doesn’t understand or remember the unraveling of his family but the sorrow, longing and loss are his to feel and his to express in the sound (and the fury, I suppose) of his crying.

I don’t think I’ve come across a scene that could represent more the Biblical phrase “the least of these”. In his final section, Faulkner delivers short vignettes that tell the continual disappearance of the Compson family but he finally describes Dilsey and her family with simply “They endured.”

Hope? Maybe a glimmer.

The Sound and the Fury is not an easy book to read. It’s been on my shelf for over three decades and I’ve only now had the patience to get through it. Even now, I had to consciously suspend my desire for certainty in order to keep going. But I did and it was worth it. Once finished, perhaps the reader has “endured”, too.

Posted in Short Stories

Jonathan Franzen: The Failure

Deal Me In 2020 – Week 19

As if he were a caddie or a servant, Denise handed him her umbrella and brushed water and grit from the ankles of her jeans. Denise was the one who’d instructed him to invite his parents to stop and have lunch in New York today. She’d sounded like the World Bank dictating terms to a Latin debtor state, because unfortunately Chip owed her some money. He owed her whatever ten thousand and fifty-five hundred and four thousand and a thousand dollars added up to.

In David Remnick’s introduction to his anthology Wonderful Town: New York Stories from The New Yorker, he talks about a New Yorker “kind” of story. He describes it as “a quiet, modest thing that tends to track the quiet desperation of a rather mild character and ends in some gentle apercu of recognition or dismay – or dismayed recognition.”

So far as I read the stories in this collection, Jonathan Franzen’s story “The Failure” is the best example of that description. Chip’s parents arrive in New York City from somewhere in the midwest full of quips and questions about his livelihood or lack thereof. It’s interesting that Chip’s sister also lives in New York City. So we get the idea that both siblings have fled the midwest for the Big Apple. I don’t think the conflict Franzen puts into play here is a geographic one even if that’s what it looks like on the surface. It’s more a conflict between parents and children or at least one child – Chip.

And as Chip takes his parents to his apartment where his girlfriend is waiting to break up with him and as he runs out the door after her in time to beg his sister to stay with his parents until he gets back, Chip experiences that “dismayed recognition” that Remnick refers to. Maybe a recognition that all the little jabs from his parents might not always be that much off the mark.

I read this story when I selected the Five of Hearts for Week 19 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.

How often do you read a New Yorker story and how would you describe a typical one? Have you read anything by Jonathan Franzen? I know he has several acclaimed novels including The Corrections. 

Posted in Short Stories

Jon Hassler: Resident Priest

Deal Me In 2020 – Week 18

“Let it be known that, having been sent to Kettle Island to rest, the first thing I did upon my arrival was to sit on a rock and rest. I see my biographer using that as an illustration of my obedience.”

Ernie Booker, in Jon Hassler’s short story “Resident Priest”, is the caretaker and gardener of St. Mary’s convent on Kettle Island. An island in the St. Croix River between Minnesota and Wisconsin. While he seems content with his life there, it’s hard to say that he is happy. In fact, this nuance in character sets the stage for the story.

Father Fogarty gets sent to Kettle Island to be their priest after an absence of one for a long period of time. Getting stuck in the mud getting to the island is Father Fogarty’s introduction to Ernie and Sister Simon, the ever stern nun in charge. One might say that the priest is not just stuck in the mud but is stuck in this same nuance as Ernie – maybe happy but not really.  It seems they will become friends if not best friends.

One might also say that the story has a surprise ending but afterwards, the reader will probably say, “Oh, I think I saw that coming”.

It’s a nice little story without a ton of plot – and more character. I read it when I selected the King of Diamonds for Week 18 of my Deal Me In 2020 short story project. It’s included in The Best American Catholic Short Stories edited by Daniel McVeigh and Patricia Schnapp. Check out my Deal Me In 2020 list here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.